5 Ways to Make the Present Moment “New” with Your Child
Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed. Copyright © 2014
Parents ask about how to make the present moment more “real” to themselves and their children. Does it really mean letting go of all past information about your child’s behavior? And does it really mean putting an end to fear of future behavior? Yes to both. At a recent presentation by “The Mother of Mindfulness” Ellen Langer, I learned the phrase “making it new.” I thought that was helpful, so I’m sharing it with you today.
Eli’s mom and dad came to me with this scenario. Their 9-year-old was habitually using bad language, refusing any household help requests, and opposing just about every request from his parents. Tony and Marsha love their son. They are feeling traumatized themselves by the constant resistance to everyday life with Eli, and they are desperate for help.
Here’s the way the scene usually plays out:
Tony: “Eli, it’s time to get off the iPad and get ready for bed.”
Eli: “No! I am in the middle of the game.”
Tony: “Eli, I said it’s time for bed. I don’t want to hear another word from you on this. We’ve talked about it 100 times. It’s time for bed and I mean it!”
Eli: “I don’t care what you say. I’m finishing my game!”
Tony: “OK, if that’s what you want. No iPad for a week.”
Eli: “That’s not fair! You can’t do this to me!” and a huge meltdown ensues. Tony feels out of control and awful, and Eli is completely out of his body with rage.
This is a regular occurrence at bedtime, and Tony and Marsha are ready to try anything to make it better.
Here are the five ways to do just that:
1. Realize that for Eli, it feels like the first time he’s ever played this game. I know, it’s hard to imagine, but children’s thinking and adults’ thinking are very different. Eli is completely absorbed, as the game feels new every time he plays it. Respect that turning it off is a big jolt to him. Use a quiet and calm voice, and avoid letting it rise at the end, signifying, “I have this expectation and you’d better fulfill it!” That triggers opposition.
2. Decide in advance (together) what time the game is turned off every night, and help Eli count backwards from bedtime, so he can get finished with the game at an appropriate time. In the PRESENT MOMENT, when the game needs to be shut down, place your trust in his knowing of the rules, and stay with Eli’s emotions. “I know you know it’s time to get finished. It’s a disappointment, yes. Let’s turn it off now, as this is the time we chose.” Then don’t waver. It’s a gift to Eli to hold your ground. It makes you predictable, which is very helpful to him over the long term.
3. Give Eli heartfelt appreciation for turning off the game, even if he’s not cheerful about it. “When you do as we planned, I feel relieved and relaxed. Now we can both have a good night’s sleep. Thank you, Eli.”
4. Remember that Eli doesn’t want to be out of control. Deep down, when you are calm and certain about bedtime, he’s reassured. Again, it feels new to him to hear your calm voice, even though it’s a regular occurrence.
5. Let go of past incidents. Talk to Eli about the game, how many points he has, what a feeling of accomplishment he gets from excelling at it, and how you feel accomplishment in your life. This takes the fight out of the conversation about video games, and allows Eli to get perspective on it. If you hold on to your authority over Eli, he needs to counter it. If you just share your life with him, he can let go and make good decisions. Again, there’s a feeling of newness. That fresh interaction with you can help him ride a wave of cooperation.
Every present moment offers the opportunity to 1. connect with the feelings your child is having, 2. make a plan for when typical conflicts arise, 3. express heartfelt appreciation, 4. present a calm and certain demeanor to your child, and 5. create a casual, interested conversation with your child that conveys, “I’m sharing my life with you” rather than “I’m in charge of you.”
Each step of parenting is a new learning experience. We grow as our kids grow, and there’s nothing wrong with not knowing what to do or say when conflicts arise. Give yourself a break if you blew it, but then resolve to improve the situation next time. If you need help with this process, visit www.parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching for all the info on ways to set up an appointment and get started!