In the first part of the 30-day plan, I emphasized the importance of finding hopefulness, and a sense of certainty that you CAN turn things around. Life can get better, regardless of your child’s tendencies.
Last week I received the following email: “Dr. Cale, I understand that ‘starving weeds’ by walking away from the negative behavior is important. But what do I do when he follows me, tugs at me, cling to me…and won’t stop whining/screaming in my face? I keep reacting to his negativity with my own negativity. Trust me, I want to do better. But how?”
Control Only What Is Controllable
When dealing with demanding, reactive children who are persistent in their desire to get your attention, it is futile to try to control them. But here’s the catch: when we walk away, they follow. When we try to leave, they hold on. When we ignore, they cry and scream and often strike out physically.
Understandably, we often become frustrated, and like the parent above, our tendency is to react, which feeds into their negativity. If this persists, we will lose in the game of parenting.
Our reaction usually involves trying to get them to be quiet, to stop screaming, to listen, or even go to their room. The more they refuse, the more we tend to respond in very controlling ways. We speak to them as if we have control over them, and we don’t.
Do We Control Our Children?
The bottom line is that we don’t control our children. The more that we end up falling into this trap the more we end up in futile battles and constant struggles.
In many ways, when you accept this truth, you are open to an enlightened way of parenting that gives you tremendous power to teach your kids critical life lessons and to help them learn to negotiate through the world more effectively.
What Can We Control?
There are two pieces you can control that are vitally important. First, you can control yourself. You can walk away, even when your child follows you and keeps screaming and crying. You can keep your calm, even in the face of the worst meltdown and the ugliest outburst. This becomes much easier when you also recognize that you can control something else of critical significance: your home.
What do I mean? I mean you can set up your home so that you can walk away, go to your room, lock the door and let the fireworks begin (and they will begin quite quickly!). You can effectively allow the negative moment to persist as long as ‘it’ wants to persist. Just find a way to tuck yourself away from the reaction, perhaps having scooped up some other siblings along the way, and allow this moment to unfold without any of your attention. This strategy is essential for the very, very difficult child. You must be able to honor the starving of the weeds, in order to move forward.
Remember, this allows these negative moments to rapidly decline over the days ahead of you. And they will decline.
Once that happens, you can more easily begin to start noticing the positive moments. In other words, you can start to feed those seeds we discussed last week.
Finally, there is also another pointer here for next week’s article on the 30-day plan. You can control your home in every way. You control the food in the pantry, whether phones work or not, whether there is Internet or if the playroom is locked. You control which goodies are available at any time of the day or when the car is moving or sitting. You control more than you realize…and that is essential to keep in mind.
For now, get control of what you can control. This does not require words, only action. You must be willing to take that action today.