Haven’t we all had those moments when we have said or done something to our children which we regret? At such times we often beat ourselves up and wonder if we are “bad” parents. But, is it possible to look at such moments in a different light? See them as opportunities to REPAIR a relationship, and even strengthen the connection.
One weekend morning as I was getting breakfast ready for my two kids, my seven-year-old was searching for a book. He was not able to find it and as he kept searching he was getting more frustrated. He kept calling out for me to help and I told him to give me a couple of minutes to finish my cooking, but that didn’t register. He got louder.
“Amma can you come here? Aaargh, I can’t find it! It’s so annoying!”
I couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing, my anger was slowly building and I finally ‘lost it’ as we say, and marched up to him with a raised hand and yelled at the top of my voice,
“What is wrong with you? Didn’t you hear me say I need two minutes? Why are you yelling just for this?”
He was so scared and upset, he started crying.
A lot of you might have had similar instances with your children. We all know that reacting in this way is not helpful. But, it is not always possible to respond in an ideal way to every situation, and putting pressure on oneself to be perfect can only make one even more stressed out. So then what can we do when we lose our temper and then feel miserable about it?
Repairing the rupture and reconnecting with the child
An apology is a good start, but as parents, we are sometimes hesitant to apologise to a child. When we were small we may not have experienced an apology from an adult. So we may carry the belief that its only children who need to say sorry, not adults. This belief harms both us and our children. Reaching out to your child, saying sorry and connecting with your child, role models one of the most important aspects of any human relationship.
Also, just an apology is not enough. It takes more work, starting first with our own feelings.
What triggered the reaction?
In this situation I was thinking: “My God, why is he always so loud, I can’t think when he yells like this. He needs to be more patient and responsible for his things. I can’t drop everything all the time and do what he wants! Enough of this noise!”
“I have a tough time when anyone gets loud. I wanted to have a peaceful morning. I am doing the best I can.”
What is the child feeling?
I can see he is upset and scared. He has told me he doesn’t like it when I yell. He feels I don’t care.
Making amends and restoring the connection
With my son, I said, “Raj I am so sorry for what happened. When you shouted like that I got disoriented, and I yelled at you to actually try and calm things. I see that I scared you and you are really upset. You were just frustrated that you couldn’t find your book.
Moving towards understanding
When both the adult and child are in a calmer state, we move beyond saying ‘I’m sorry’ and take responsibility for the hurt we may have caused. We acknowledge feelings and have a conversation, give the story about what happened, without blaming.
In this situation, I went a little further and attempted some problem solving with my son as his reactions when he gets frustrated are mostly loud and I have a tough time dealing with it.
“You know I understand that when you get frustrated, you start panicking and raising your voice, and when you are in that state, I find it difficult to help, as I get stressed too. How can we work together on this?”
Often parents feel guilty after shouting or scolding and may want to make up by just being extra sweet and giving. Maybe some chocolate or extra TV time. But, when we don’t talk about what happened, don’t apologise, we end up confusing the child, and creating more of a disconnect.
Talking in this manner gives better insight into what happened, and helps to reset the parent-child link positively. I was in the middle of this chaotic, negative situation like I have been many times before, but with this process, this time I was able to repair it! My son and I understood each other better, building our bond. I find that small moments like these add up to make a big difference in our relationship with our children.
— Samanta Dandapani is a parent educator in-training at Parenting Matters, an organisation which empowers parents to build deeper connection within families. To know more about our programs and workshops, look us up on www.parentingmatters.in