Often when I work with parents, they want me to help them control their child’s negative behaviors. Their focus is on learning methods for “fixing” the behaviors that they don’t like and see as socially unacceptable. We’ve all been there.

When helping parents see through a new lens, I often ask them “When you have had a bad day at work, are hungry and tired and had a fight with your spouse, are you “pretty”?” Most of them look at me, laughing and say, “no way”. I then look at them and say, “But you expect your 4-year-old to?” This will often bring it home how silly it is to expect our children to be able to control their behavior when we adults, when stressed, have a hard time controlling ours. I take it one step further and ask them what it would be like if their spouse put them in a time out for acting out. Again they laugh and look at me like I’m kidding. Then I often see the light bulb go off in their head and their realization about how absurd it is to control behavior. A new door opens. Parents begin to understand that their child’s so called “negative” behavior may be communicating something important and if they can hear this message they may be able to support their child instead of trying to control them.

Parents begin to notice that when their child is relaxed with a sense of well being, the child exhibits all the behaviors the parent sees as positive. When parents see that the positive is usually 90% of the time, they understand that the 10% of the time their child is acting out is due to the child’s stress. Attending to the child’s discomfort instead of controlling the behavior teaches the child that they can get support when they need to calm themselves and return to a regulated loving place.

Practice: In your life, watch when you are under stress. Notice your thoughts, your body posture and how you react to others. When recognizing this, see if you can stop and resource yourself, taking care of your needs before connecting with your child. Be the role model for dealing with stress and you’ll see your children follow right along.