Religions share variations on the Golden Rule. Having learned them, we often cite the Golden Rule when explaining to children why they should treat their siblings or playmates with kindness, share, and, in general be respectful of others. As an adult, at times, I find it challenging to reign in a smart remark to rudeness or ineptness in others.
Parents face that challenge when children don’t follow instructions or smart off in response to reminders to do homework or chores. I raised my voice in frustration to my children, and I knew better. Child and teen brains are less mature than ours and will kick into fight or flight more easily. Raising our voices in criticism only makes it harder for kids to control themselves. How do we manage our own behavior so that we are more effective as parents? Effective parenting techniques abound. There are excellent manuals for speaking to children and for using behavioral techniques to shape behavior(Gottman & Declaire, 1998) (Kazdin, 2014). We don’t lack evidence-based approaches to good parenting. We don’t have a knowledge problem, but we do have our own behavioral problem.
What we miss are the tools to manage our personal emotional reactions. We go down the same old stimulus-response routine, repeating some rendition of the phrase, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times!” How many clients have said to me, “I keep repeating the same behaviors and expecting a different outcome”? They tell me this is the definition of insanity and then give me a quote attributed to Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Fortunately, we can master changing our own negative behavior. The first step is deciding we will make a change. Next, we must learn to monitor our thinking and behavior and the situations, people and events that trigger our negative responses. Then, find a good cognitive behavior therapist that can help develop these skills. You could learn to do a quick analysis of the words you are about to speak (See this post). Alternatively, read a book on cognitive behavior therapy (Branch and Willson, 2012) and work your way to a more functional and happy relationship with yourself and others. You might even stop yelling at your kids.
David L. Barnhart, EdD
Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor
Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child The Heart of Parenting, Aug 12, 1998 by Ph.D. John Gottman and Joan Declaire.
The Everyday Parenting Toolkit: The Kazdin Method for Easy, Step-by-Step, Lasting Change for You and Your Child, Aug 5, 2014 by Alan E. Kazdin and Carlo Rotella.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workbook For Dummies, February 20, 2012 by Rhena Branch (Author), Rob Willson.