But don’t they deserve to be punished? Challenging behavior at home, part III
When your kids are yelling, hitting, throwing things, kicking in doors, fighting with siblings, resisting school, not cooperating to get ready, having a hard time transitioning, refusing to do chores, blowing up when they don't get what they want, and, and, and. You just want ease, and the fastest thing to get there seems to be punishment. Your nervous system is on red alert as none of this is OK!
You are thinking, “I just can’t take anymore! They deserve to be punished! This is wrong, disrespectful, a problem. What would my mother say? What if the neighbor is overhearing this backtalk?!? They’ll think I’m a lousy Mom, that’s what. This is embarrassing and mortifying! Why can’t I stop this? I’m a terrible parent. This is messing up our schedule, we’ll never get what we need to done! It’s not this hard for other parents…” and on and on.
The question I often hear from parents I work with is, “How do I stop their challenging behavior?” It’s a valid question from our perspective. We give and give and this is the thanks we get? It feels like they have turned into a wolf and are attacking us!
But as we learned before, challenging behavior is actually important; it is communicating that they have an unmet need that matters to them. A lot. These awful behaviors are their way of protecting themselves and escalating to get their needs met. Their emotions are a guide to what matters, what’s important. Yes, it is a poor strategy. Yes, it is uncomfortable for us. But it's their convoluted ask for support. So the counterintuitive solution is to go towards them, even though we accurately sense threat and discomfort.
“What? Really? Do we have to? That sounds scary and uncomfortable.” I hear parents respond.
As we learned in the last post, the solution is to start to MEET them where they are. MEET and accept the one who is yelling, screaming, hitting, whining, crying etc. This is paradoxical, I know. It felt uncomfortable for me too. But when you really get that these awful behaviors are your child’s way of protecting themselves and communicating as best as they can in that moment, it makes more sense and seems more possible.
When you put on your MEET lens, you can more easily see that they are trying to tell you what is important to them, what they value. When they are yelling or resisting, they are using unskillful strategies to get what they need: to be seen, or gain power in their world, or connection. They aren't actually a threat to you.
Their ‘lid is flipped’ according to Dr. Dan Siegel, and they need your support.
Here is the staggering key to untangle all this: the problem isn’t actually their behavior, but that their challenging behavior is triggering something within you. Your nervous system senses threat, problem. You react to their reaction. Kind of like the chicken and the egg, right?!
So now what?!
Remember from the last post, the way forward is to start to validate their feelings, the ones underneath the undesirable behavior. Their feelings are crucial. They are the guide to what deeply matters to your child. The window to their life energy. The anger, sadness, embarrassment, fear and shame are all giving important messages about what they deeply value. When they receive this level of acceptance, safety and permission to feel from you, it is like magic. Their whole resistance and need to protect their life energy shifts.
The beauty is that when you start to see through the MEET lens and accept what is, you can more easily stop sending them change energy. We learned that you give them ‘change energy’ every time you label them as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ or tell them they aren't doing it ‘right’. When you do this, you are verbally and nonverbally telling them they aren’t OK the way they are.
It also halts their creative forward energy. You probably don’t do this intentionally, you are just trying to get the behavior driving you crazy to stop. That makes sense. Yet, feeling shame and ‘I’m not OK’ is the message they seem to internalize, so they resist it. Their very life force protects against this unconscious message you are both directly and inadvertently sending them.
So how do you start seeing through the MEET lens which stops giving them change energy? What supports you in validating their emotions and stopping you deciding and communicating that you know better than them about them? The key is a practice to stop your own flipped lid reaction so you can help them co-regulate: you build an anchor.
This anchoring practice is straightforward, but can be challenging to use as our fight flight freeze/please is ingrained.
Step 1) In a non-intense, non lid flipped time, build an anchor to an embodied sense of safety. To do this, imagine yourself during a time of wonderful peace. Maybe you are sitting in the sun or walking and hearing birds or cosy warm in bed before sleep. What do feel as you relax and experience a sense of well-being? Is there a color you associate with it or a texture? Is there a visual like a warm inviting light or a cosy blanket? Is there a gesture like a hand on your heart to remind you of this deep feeling of well-being and safety?
This is your anchor. You can call up this sense of safety and well-being any time.
Step 2) To build its strength (and neuro pathways,) re-create this anchor, imagine and experience the felt sense of safety and wellbeing 3 times each day for the next 3 weeks.
Step 3: Next time you are facing challenging behavior, a stressful, lid flipped situation, grab your anchor: remember the color, visual or gesture that embodies this sense of safety for you. This sense of center, of wholeness is always within you.
When you grab your anchor during challenging behavior, your energy shifts. You will be amazed at how you shifting your energy will allow your child to shift theirs.
Keep practicing! The reason this can difficult is that often you and your child are both lost and overwhelmed by the reactive ‘wolf energy’ and flooded with emotion at the same time. It is good to start on smaller, less intense interactions. When you are learning these new concepts and skills, it is slow to untangle yourself, let alone untangle from your child at the same time.
The good news is that Bounceback Parenting author and mother, Alissa Zorn and I have created a community of like-minded parents to learn and practice these concepts, and skills to rewire our old unskillful patterns that lead to conflict and instead connect. It's called The Real Peace Place. We want you to know there is hope.
If you'd like ongoing support we welcome you. You don't have to do this alone and it doesn’t have to be so hard.