In my article last week I talked about the different things that began to change for me as my attitudes and actions developed more of a sense of awareness and tolerance. The first thing I said was, "I felt a difference in my ability to tolerate childlike things." Although I was finding myself developing greater patience toward my kids, this struggle (which is common to all parents) is never finally won.
Like most parents I can feel that restricting sense, that burning feeling, which precedes some sort of response to a stimulus like, say, backtalking. The common physiological clues are all there - the increase in heart rate, the knotting of the stomach, and the rapid working of the mind as it charges ahead with the quickest and easiest course of action. At this point in the process everything that has been happening is out of our control to a large degree. We are quite literally 'along for the ride' as our body processes unfold sequentially. This is a reaction. Our bodies are reacting to the sensory input of the moment. Little thought is given to options or choices. And if we allow what is welling up in us to actually come out of us, our internal reaction will have become an external reaction, and seldom are good parenting decisions made as the result of reacting.
As I began to become more aware of what was going on inside of me in those seconds before I was reacting, I realized that I could most always feel it happening. More importantly, I had to take responsibility for the fact that I was ultimately in control of my body and what I allowed to come out of my mouth. In other words, it's not your child's fault that you lost your temper and yelled…it's your fault.
In this case, the "I don't know what came over me" comments from parents are no excuse. I know what came over them and they do too - they allowed themselves to react to their emotions. Your 4-year old's temper tantrum should not induce a 40-year-old temper tantrum. Of the two people in the situation you are the adult and you, the parent, should behave like a parent. The solution? Learning to respond instead of react.
In general, reacting is seen as negative and responding is seen as positive. Even our language reflects this in statements like "you've had an allergic reaction" or "the stock market reacted today by plunging 500 points".
Conversely we also say things like "you responded well to the medicine" or "her response was so pleasant". So, remember, reactions are generally bad while responses are generally good. Or for the purposes of parenting, reactions are destructive while responses are constructive.
Therefore, we parents need to learn to recognize those physiological signs that precede our "losing it" and catch ourselves.
Just doing that - a quick deep breath, a whispered prayer, an intentional momentary separation to slow down and think, the wisdom to say, "give me just a second", may make the difference between a moment that is handled and quickly forgotten and a moment that we regret for a lifetime. You're the parent…be the mature adult in those times when you most need to be.