How you react to every day situations with your child, may influence how they feel about coming to you in a time of need.
Throughout her childhood, Alana Webber,* never knew what would set her mother off on a tirade. Nerves before an exam, worry about something in the school ground, a conversation with a boy, were all murky territories that young Alana was hesitant to approach her parents about.
Alana explained how her parents often jumped to conclusions, overreacted and even made Alana feel bad about her childhood worries.
“Now I try to be the parent I wish I'd had. I listen when my kids tell me they just feel awful and can't face school that day. If they tell me something big, I try to be calm and encourage the conversation, because I can't have their back if I don't know what's going on in their lives. I remind them constantly that I'm on their side, no matter what,” says Alana.
It’s a fine line between being a parent and being a friend, but the two are not mutually exclusive. Although the parental role is to guide and support kids, listening to your children and reacting with kindness can help strengthen your bond.
Mum of two, Natalie Hudson, has also used her own childhood to help shape the kind of parent
she wants to be.
“I'm a mum who tries not to overreact. I try to ask lots of questions to find out what is going on for my child. I know I can be quick to snap at times, but have done lots of work on myself and am using positive parenting techniques to try and change my dialogue,” tells Natalie.
“Ironically, I was a naughty kid and teenager who got up to no good, often because my parents acted like they didn't trust me. Instead of talking to me, they managed my behaviour with punishments and the occasional smack. It didn't work, so I try to change how I treat my kids.”
Positive parenting focuses on developing a strong relationship between parents and children based on communication and respect. It involves positive discipline and gentle guidance free from fear of violence or shame.
“It’s important your child feels they have somewhere safe to come with their problems. They may come to you with something small and relatively insignificant. However, sometimes it may be something more difficult to handle. This may require a restrained or more thought-out reaction”, says child psychologist Dr. Sasha Lynn.
“Essentially when our kids take risks, or do things we might not agree with, in talking to us about it, they want to know that we’re still there for them. Going ballistic, while sometimes natural, only serves to shut down the conversation, and it can send the message that you’re not there for them when they muck up.” says Dr. Lynn.
The way parents react to their children from a young age can deeply influence a child’s feelings of safety in coming forward in the difficult moments. And this may have consequences for them as they get older.
“From the earliest of ages, our kids are soaking up our emotional reactions, and internalising them as to how then they should react in similar situations. We are their world when they’re little, we teach them what’s normal and what’s not,” says Dr. Lynn.
“When we over-react, kids can shrink away, they may question emotional attachments and while they might truly know the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, it doesn’t necessarily show them what to do instead in a challenging situation. We want to try to be guiding kids towards the right thing to do, instead of focusing on what not to do.”
The important thing to remember is that we are all just human. So just as your kid will make mistakes along the way, so too will you. There may be times a reaction is out of the bag before you can catch it, so it can be helpful to take a moment to regain composure and think more deeply about the situation.
“Overreacting is a common thing. We are all probably going to do it, and our kids are going to do it. However, if we do overreact, it’s important to be open with our kids about why, and allow them to see how their actions have consequences for not just them, but those around them. Talk them through your process of getting things back on track,” tells Dr. Lynn.
Life can be a minefield, and everyone makes mistakes at times – especially when it comes to parenting. But stopping and taking a little breath before we respond to those tricky moments, could have a bigger impact than we realise.
Tips on handling the little moments:
- Take a moment to assess the situation and formulate a mindful response.
- Try positive consequences for good behaviour to curb the need to negative outcomes for negative behaviour.
- Focus on what your child has done right in the situation.
- Remove yourself from the room for a moment if you hit “flash point” and call a friend/spouse to help you blow off steam.
- Ensure you take care of yourself through exercise, regular parenting breaks and time with other parents to alleviate your own stress.