The one skill to master to be a better parent
A parenting psychologist says if you can only get one thing right in relationships, it is this: Repair.
In her Ted talk, Dr. Becky Kennedy suggests that parenting isn't about not making mistakes, it is about what you do after.
I get frustrated sometimes as a dad. The other day I snapped at my son because he was carrying his cereal bowl with one hand and spilled it everywhere on the walk to the table. Literally 3 seconds prior I had said, "Hold it with two hands so you don't spill."
I was rushing to get breakfast on the table. I had to make lunches after that. This was another mess I was going to have to deal with.
"What did I just tell you!" I shouted.
He looked up at me and fearfully said, "I'm sorry daddy."
I could tell from the look that my reaction was way over the top.
Yes, it was an avoidable mess.
No, a few drops of milk and cereal on the floor and 20 seconds to clean it isn't a big deal.
What should happen next?
Here is what she says is required for repair:
-Going back to the moment of disconnection
-Taking responsibility for your behavior
-Acknowledge the impact it had
What does this do?
It removes the self-blame and self-loathing that a kid might be feeling after being yelled at.
It models the act of showing you care by taking the time to correct a mistake.
It builds the connection, safety, and love that you certainly feel but fell short of in the moment.
What stands in the way?
Usually it is self-repair.
I can rationalize the situation by telling myself "It's his fault because he didn't listen to me."
I can use that excuse and pile it on top of the others, I have so much to do, I am so stressed, etc.
I can say it was teaching him a lesson for spilling the cereal.
I can say it isn't a big deal. He won't even remember it.
But the truth is that I know it is a big deal to my son. The notion that he will listen to me more if I yell at him is completely backwards. Even if that is the result, it will come with much worse side effects.
Self-repair is telling myself that I am a good dad who overreacted.
I admit that it wasn't how I wanted to show up as a parent.
Self-repair is setting aside my ego and admitting I made a mistake.
Now I am ready to repair with my son.
"Hey buddy, I'm sorry I yelled at you. I bet that made you feel kind of bad. Accidents happen, and I was a bit overwhelmed trying to get out the door. I'll try not to yell next time."
Apologize for my behavior, acknowledge how he felt.
I love this idea because it will help him rewrite the incident in his mind.
As Dr. Kennedy points out, there is no expectation that he caused my outburst either. That is a weight that is unfair to put onto your kids, and will saddle them with a lifetime of fear and shame.
This approach will also take moments that could be core memories of disconnection and turns them into moments of bonding.
Each one of these moments has the chance to go either way. This is the way to ensure that the connection gets stronger and stronger.
Being a parent can be exasperating and exhausting.
Get five tips that I use every day for dealing with the emotional complexities of raising kids.