Do you react or respond with your tween?
Things don’t always go according to plan. It could be at work, school, home, or just life in general. Last week, very little went according to plan: dead battery, busted water heater, a work overload, a school deadline missed, and a little tween ‘tude. Each of these experiences had the potential to push me over the proverbial edge. I’m happy to say they didn’t … this time.
Several years ago, I learned a very worthwhile lesson about what can happen things don’t go according to plan. At the time, I was newly married and pregnant with my first child. The house we had purchased was in desperate need of paint. I carefully selected a painter that I felt gave us a decent price and quality work. After a week, I reviewed the work. Eh. It wasn’t so quality after all. I was certain, though, that the painter would come correct. He didn’t.
Instead, I received the final bill, which was far more than the original estimate. This was not anywhere close to going how I had planned. And, I’d love to tell you that I was quite calm and reasonable when I spoke with the contractor. I was not. My reaction was far from it. In fact, I actually changed my locks the next day as I was afraid of retaliation from my reaction. Yes, it was that bad.
This experience, however, taught me the valuable difference between reacting and responding. What’s the difference? A reaction is a quick, not-so well-thought-out act of anger or aggression. A response offers more contemplation; it is non-threatening, even calm, and it allows for assertiveness without aggression. A reaction provokes and sets off more reactions; this can perpetuate a cycle of threats. A response starts a discussion, a courageous conversation – even a debate – that can lead to resolution instead of rage and resentment. Reaction is about power; response is about respect.
Reacting and responding begin from the same starting point: an emotional trigger. In terms of parenting, this trigger often may come from something our child says or does. Perhaps your 6th grader ignores your efforts to make their school dance special, or your 4th grader screams, “I hate you.” Maybe you just found a joint in your 8th graders dresser drawer. There are countless situations that can trigger you. It is what happens next – your reaction or your response – though, that makes the difference.
Easy peasy, right? Nope, not really. And, this is where I call my bluff. I don’t always choose to respond. Sometime I react (and it isn’t pretty.) We all do. Some situations that trigger a lot of fear, anger or inadequacy; and, you know what, you will react. However, there are a few tried and true strategies that can weight the odds of in more favor of responding than reacting.
When something doesn’t go according to plan, take a deep breath and count to ten or fifty or one thousand, if necessary. Eat a piece of dark chocolate. I’m not joking. Dark chocolate can calm the nerves by reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The was a study in 2009 (forgot the name) that showed the markers of stress were reduced in high anxiety folks by eating 40 grams of dark chocolate a day.
Admit to yourself that this is not going as planned and that is just fine. Don’t belittle yourself. Just say “ok, this is not what I want but I’ll figure it out.” Step away. This is especially true if you are in a monkey-wrench of a situation with your child. Rather than react, tell your child, “I am really, really angry. I need some space from you. We WILL talk about this when I get back.” Then, go for a walk. Hit the gym. Write a letter and DON’T mail it. Scream curse words off your roof. Call someone. Eat more chocolate. Do whatever you need to do to give yourself the opportunity to calm down.
Consider what your child needs from you. I guarantee it is not feeling guilt or shame. What do you need? Perhaps more boundaries, appreciation, ground rules. Now, consider how you want this situation resolved? My guess that it usually isn’t with doors slamming and punishments being tossed around like a hackey sack.
Talk WITH – not AT – your child. Children – especially tweens and teens – shut down when they feel you are lecturing them. Give them permission to speak – not scream – whatever is on their mind. This shows them that even though you may be upset, you still value what they have to say. This also gives great buy-in on any consequences you may need to choose. (That’s coming up in another article!)
Check in with yourself and ask: “What’s going on with me right now?” Are you hungry, tired or just cranky. If so, grab a snack, take a nap or, I don’t know, do a happy dance. Gaining perspective of where you are right now can help you start to move in the direction you need. Still feeling uncertain? Seek out counsel from a friend, family member, or counselor for support.
We cannot control what happens in our lives. Whether it is with cars, careers, kids and more, things are not always going to go according to plan. We do, however, always have command over our choices. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments section on how you remain calm when things don’t go according to plan and you have been triggered.