Step-by-step technique for handling disrespectful behavior.

I have spent the past several months deconstructing Heather’s parenting strategies.  I was so inspired by her genius that I knew I had to share it with the world. So Heather and I decided to co-author a book, How to Raise a Happy Child (and be happy too): Modern Parenting Techniques that Work, which will be released later this year.  Since the topic of parenting is so rich, we also decided to launch this website and blog, which you are reading now.

This post features one of the many techniques that will be in our book.  It answers the question every parent wants to know: “How do I address my child’s disrespectful behavior in a way that works?”

I figured out Heather’s strategy by watching her eye movements. In literally about a nano-second her eyes darted to 4 different places – each place was a step in her mental process. The eyes are like a map of the brain and tracking eye movements is one of the best ways to slow down someone’s thought process. I’ll let her take it from here and explain:

Enter Heather Criswell:

When I am interacting with children I am aware of opportunities for teachable moments – for chances to connect with a child.

Recently Taryn and I were talking about how I guide children’s behavior. Until Taryn unpacked my strategy and thinking process, I was not consciously aware that I had such a rehearsed mental script for dealing with a child’s disrespectful behavior. These steps happen so fast in my mind, after so many years of practice, I had become completely unaware of my own strategy. All this time I just assumed it was intuition.  It turns out my intuition has a structure.  Who knew the steps in my process could be understood by tracking my eye movements?!

So let’s take an undesirable behavior as an example.  Let’s say my young son just hit me out of anger and frustration. Here is exactly what I do, step-by-step:

1. I immediately ask myself: “Is this a behavior I can let go, or do I need to address it?”
This one is easy. It’s a “deal breaker” behavior for me. I need to address it. I don’t deserve to be hit by anyone.

2. I instantly recall a situation where my child was behaving completely opposite of what he is doing now.
I remember a moment when my child was loving and respectful. I remember his light and smile in that moment and hold it in my mind. As I hold that image of him, in my mind and heart I know my child is love and this behavior is not who he is. It is important for me to remember this so I can approach him in a loving state.

3. I now ask myself: “How can I connect with him?” Then I ask: “How can he hear what I need? How can I hear what he needs? How can we both get what we need from this situation?”
I recall a time I connected with my son and we both heard each other. I remember what I did in a previous situation where we connected.  (Note:  Connecting to me means putting any of my own anger or frustration aside and looking at each other eye-to-eye and connecting heart-to-heart.)

4. I then repeat that past strategy in this moment.
In this particular case, the best way for me to connect with my son is to have a moment of silence. Then I simply tell him, “I don’t deserve to be hit.” I ask him, “What do you need from me?” I then remind him, “If you want to hit something, you are welcome to hit the punching bag in your room.” (I direct the child to where it IS appropriate to demonstrate that particular behavior.)

5. The situation is now considered closed. It is free from shame, guilt or frustration.
We both have had an opportunity to be heard. We both know what to do next time we feel the same way.

[Taryn’s comment: Can you imagine what it would feel like as a child to have someone hold an image of you at your best and then address you with that image in mind and a feeling of total love for you?  Can you imagine what it would feel like as an adult?!  Secondly, can you imagine how much more effective your own parent (or boss or spouse) would be if they made sure they had an energetic connection with you before they addressed you? It sure beats yelling across the house, “Go clean your room!!!” I believe that the difference that makes a huge difference is Heather’s simple question to herself, “How can I connect with my child in this moment?” It drives her entire strategy.  It drives HOW she talks with the child in a way the child can hear.  She gets herself in a good emotional state – a state where she can connect with the child – by remembering a time when the child was great.  This step puts her in a place of love so that when she talks with the child, the child feels her love and he wants to listen.  Contrast that with what many people do, which is assume a position of authority and tell their child in a stern voice that they need to change their behavior.

Over the years Heather has built up a huge catalog of examples to draw from on how to connect with children and what to say in any given moment.  Parents will be able to draw on their own catalog of examples of when their child at their best and when they connected successfully.]

Back to Heather for another example using this strategy….

I realized I use this same strategy, regardless of the undesirable behavior. For example, a couple of months ago my husband and I watched a friend’s 9-year old child, John, for a couple of days. John is sitting on our couch and demands brownies. He says, “Go get me some brownies.”

1. I immediately ask myself: “Is this a behavior I can let go or do I need to address it?”
This one is easy.  It’s a “deal breaker” behavior.  I need to address it.  I deserve to be addressed with respect.

2. I instantly recall a situation when this child was behaving completely opposite of what he is doing now.
I remember a moment when John was loving and respectful. I remember John’s appreciation when we went to his favorite restaurant for lunch. As I hold that image of him, in my mind and heart I know this child is love and this behavior is not who he is. It is important for me to remember this so I can approach him in a loving state.

3. I now ask myself: “How can I connect with him?” I then ask: “How can he hear what I need? How can I hear what he needs? How can we both get what we need from this situation?”
We are not around this child often, so I have to add a step to my process. I pull from my mental catalog of the children I’ve worked with over the years. I remember a child from my school that reminds me of John and I recall a time I connected with this other child.  (Note:  Connecting to me means putting any of my own anger or frustration aside and looking at each other eye-to-eye and connecting heart-to-heart.)

4. I then repeat that past strategy in this moment.
In this particular case, I state what John CAN do with an unwavering energy and tone to my voice. I look John right in the eye, make sure we connect, and then use the following script

Me: “You are more than welcome to go get brownies if you want them.”

John: “Will you please go get me brownies?”

Me: “Let me be clear. If you would like some brownies, you are welcome to go get them yourself.”

John: “I’m going to go get some brownies.”

Me: “I think that is a great idea! I would do that too.”

6. The situation is now considered closed. It is free from shame, guilt or frustration.
We both have had an opportunity to be heard. We both know what to do next time we feel the same way. (Note: I didn’t have to tell him he was being dis-respectful, he knew exactly what he was doing. That’s why his second response added the word “please.”  As long as I stay clear and consistent, he gets it without words.)

That’s it.  That’s what I do!  Next time you have an opportunity, try this strategy out with a child in your life (or heck, even your spouse).  It took me 20 years of practice to perfect my own technique.  I’m sure your child will give you 20 years too!  🙂

 

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How to set rules and boundaries that work.

“You are not going to hit your friend.”

Well, actually he did hit his friend.

Boundaries are a funny thing, especially with children.  I used to think that I needed to set boundaries for them, I am the adult and I know what’s best for you.  Draw the line in the sand, and if they crossed it, trouble was sure to come their way (cleverly disguised as a consequence)

I believed this until a little boy named Aaron enrolled in my school.  Every time I “set” a boundary, not only did he cross it, he completely erased it.   I would tell Aaron all the “rules” of the classroom, Aaron would challenge each one as a personal mission to make my day miserable.  (at least it felt that way at the time).

Aaron would head butt another child while waiting line to go outside.

My response: “Aaron, you know you are not allowed to hurt your friends.”

Aaron would simply state, “He’s not my friend.”

I added, “You are not allowed to hit ANYONE else.”

Aaron:  “Yes I am, cuz I did.”

Aaron was an amazing teacher, even at 4 years old.  He taught me that I could not set boundaries for him. He would simply outwit or defy the rule maker every time.   He did not want to be nor could he be controlled.

The valuable lesson…the only boundaries I can set are my own.  The only person I can control is myself: my response, my actions, my communication.

Aaron gave me practice everyday to master this concept.  (he wasn’t the only one to give me practice, just the most memorable) J

I can hear the response, “Are you saying that kids don’t need rules, or boundaries?”

I am saying that I need to have a clear set of boundaries for myself and communicate those boundaries in a clear, simple, and effective way.

So what does it look and sound like?

I decide what I want, communicate it simply in a matter-of-fact state of being, and create a choice that will allow both of us to get our needs met.

This is what it sounds like: “Aaron, you are welcome to hit your head on the punching bag or hit your pillow.”

Some would say, “What about teaching him that that’s not nice or to be nice to his friend, or that’s not allowed?”

I would simply say to Aaron, “ I know that you are an amazing friend.  Sometimes I get angry when I have to wait in line too.  Sometimes when I get frustrated I stomp my foot on the ground.”

Aaron needed to know that I believe he is amazing. And he need to know that I too get angry. And then I verbally model a behavior I would like for him to embrace.

My boundary was clear to Aaron without the use of shame, guilt, or anger.  Hitting another classmate does not work for me.  Here’s what will work for me: he can hit the punching bag or the pillow.

That’s it.

It’s a simple and effective formula:

  1. I hold him in a space of greatness.  He IS an amazing child.
  2. I empathize with him, I have felt the same feelings.
  3. I model, with words, a behavior that is appropriate in this situation.

Aaron reminded me that I cannot stop a feeling or a response with a rule, a boundary.  I can only give suggestions on how to handle the feeling. We shared wisdom with each other.

Aaron’s wisdom:  Miss Heather, I don’t want to be controlled, and even if you try, it won’t work.

My wisdom:  Let me offer some ways, dear Aaron, of how you can channel your feelings in situations like this.

I would rather be a mentor than a police officer.  I want to model options that are appropriate.  A mentor gives options and inspires personal growth.  I want to inspire!

Is there a boundary or rule you can re-frame to reflect your needs and offer a choice to your child?

 

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Empowerment Technique #1 – How to turn “no” into “yes” at the store.

Empowered Kid

I was recently in Target with my husband and we walked through his favorite department:  electronics. My nightmare begins.  My husband has decided that we NEED the new iPad2.  He explains all the benefits that this device will offer our family, especially me!  I give him the time to explain.  As he finishes I say “No.”  He begins another approach: this time how it will help my business.  Sneaky.  But still “NO.”  We are in the middle of the isle and now enter into a full-blown discussion.  His position: “This will help our family.”  My position: “It’s not in the budget…really NOT in the budget.” We move quickly from discussion to heated debate!

The word “no” is not just a button for children.  It is a button for humans.  I don’t like to be told “no.”  And in this instance my husband feels the same way.

I have always done my best to give children options that revolve around what they CAN do.  Over the years, many children taught me when I offer options of what they CAN do, they will move forward instead of digging their heels in to the ground.

We want to know our possibilities instead of our restrictions or limitations.  We deeply want to feel the power to make all our dreams come true.

So here it is the simple, powerful, good feeling way to approach any situation you feel the need to say “No” to in a store.  Take a moment to ask yourself:

  1. What can I say yes to? And,
  2. How can I empower my child to come up with a solution and let them know I believe in them?

So how would I replay Target?  I would simply say “That’s a great idea babe!  I know you will come up with a way to get that iPad that will work for our family!  I can’t wait because it will help me so much with the business!  You always seem to make things work for you. I know you will create a way to get it!”

Every time I gave the power to the child to decide, think, and dream for himself…he always rose to the occasion and actually thought of better ways to accomplish their dreams than I did.

Now imagine yourself with your child in the same store.

Same script, smaller person. 

If my child asks me for something in the store – and it’s not in my budget – here is how I play it out:

“What a cool toy!  I love that toy too!  I didn’t plan on getting that toy today.  But I know if you really want it you will come up with a way to get it!  Can you think of some ways you could get that for yourself?”

If I am time starved and in a hurry, I only modify the last part.  That script goes like this:

“What a cool toy!  I love that toy too!  I didn’t plan on getting that toy today.  But I know if you really want it you will come up with a way to get it!  I’ll give you some time. I’ll count to ten and if you can come up with an answer, great!  If you can’t think of a way now, you can always think more about it tonight at home.”

The idea is to inspire my child to see the possibility for him to get the things he desires from various sources, or means beyond my credit card.   To know that great things are always coming his way if we just open our minds to other available avenues. 

 

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Why Ignoring Undesirable Behavior is the Best Thing You Can Do

Parents Ignoring Behavior

When I was taking Child Development classes, I was taught that when you ignore “bad” behavior in the classroom, “bad” behavior would multiply.   And eventually your students will have you tied up, gagged, and take over!

As I worked with children from around the world at the MGM Grand Hotel youth center in Las Vegas, I learned quickly to ignore a lot of behavior.  I did this not because I wanted to, but simply because I could not understand them.  When I was faced with children that were upset or angry and expressing their feelings in a foreign language, the only choice I had was to ignore or re-direct them.  It actually taught me that addressing the anger by talking or reasoning would not work.  And in fact it just made both of us more upset and frustrated.

After I opened my pre-school, I soon realized that I could not possibly address every child’s undesirable behavior.  If I chose to go this route, my entire day would be reprimanding child after child.  That would be a terrible day for me, and an even worse day for the children.

I learned that the more I stayed out of the way, the more they would work it out on their own. The more I ignored, the happier we all were.

I want to be clear: I had “deal breakers.” My deal-breakers were situations that needed to be addressed due to safety or general concern for the child’s well-being.  But overall, these situations were limited compared to the everyday stories of pre-school misbehaving.

In most schools you will hear teachers say over, and over, and over again:

“Share your toys with him.”

“Be nice to her.”

Stop talking like that.”

Use your nice voice.” Or, “Use your inside voice.” (Which by the way makes no sense to a child.  To them their voice is their voice, inside or outside.)

“Stop throwing your toys.”

The list can go on and on and on!  I decided early on to pick out my “deal breakers,” the behaviors that I needed to address anytime I witnessed them.  And when I came across a deal breaker, I needed a plan of how to re-direct the child towards the desired behavior.  (Note: all other mildly undesirable behavior, I ignore.)

So how does this look at home?

My daughter is not as “tidy” as I would desire.  My house is my sanctuary and I feel really good when it is clean, organized, and in order.  My daughter doesn’t feel the same way.  She likes, or actually doesn’t care about, walking through a pile of clothes to get to her bed.  Nor does she mind digging through a box full of make-up to get what she needs for the day and leaving the remaining pile on the floor next to the clothes.

I can honestly deal with her rolling her eyes at me when I say something about her lack of tidiness.  That really doesn’t phase me.  But the mess?  It is beyond anything I can deal with.  I did my best.  I shut the door and I ignored it as long as I can.  Now I can’t take it anymore.  It has become deal-breaker for me.

I address her with a simple conversation.  I say, “This room is not working for me.  I know that we have different styles of living.  I am willing to work with you.  We need to move somewhere in the middle so we can both live together under one roof.  Here’s what I am willing to live with:  I need to be able to see your floor, see your bed spread, and see your table.  Is that something that will work for you?”

We have a conversation, defining our needs, and how we can come together to make it work.  I treat her with respect, the same respect I offer my friends and even strangers, and we figure it out.

I have my “deal-breakers” established early on so when I see a behavior that is on that list I address it.  If it is not on the list, I let it go.  It is such a relief because I know that I am not the only person in the world my child will learn from or grow with.  I can’t imagine a boss or even my own parent nitpicking on every single little thing I do “wrong” or not to “expectation.”  I don’t want to be under that kind of microscope and neither does my child.  I honor what is important to me and let go of the restAnd we are all a lot happier.

 

 

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Why No Punishment is Your Reward

Parenting and Punishment

I am cruising down the highway, minding my own business, going around 70 mph in a 55 mph zone.  I hear the sirens, look in my rear view mirror, and I realize the highway patrol is not happy with my choice to go a little faster than recommended.  He pulls me over and I comply with his requests: license, insurance and registration.  He proceeds to ask me a very condescending question. “Do you know how fast you were going?”  (Of course I do! I have to go that fast to get to my meeting on time!)  I say, “Around 65 mph.” His response: “No, actually you were going 71 in a 55 zone.”  I am thinking to myself, “Really?  You couldn’t say 70?  You had to say 71????”

He proceeds to issue me a ticket and warn me of all the dangers of going 71 miles per hour on this highway.  He tries to scare me into being “good” and following the rules with a story of a recent fatality on the highway.  The story was of a driver going 71 mph or so!  Anyway, he gives me the ticket and says, “I hope you have learned your lesson.”

I immediately think, ”Yep, I need to pay more attention to where you guys hide so I can slow down and avoid a ticket!”

This officer sparked a thought in my mind…

Does punishment really work?

The ticket does not detour me from ever speeding again.  The officer shaming or fearing me into not speeding has no effect on my choice to speed in the future.  I actually look to find ways to “beat the system” instead of working together.

What if we could come to an understanding between each other?  What if we were able to communicate our needs and desires to each other, respectfully, and have it result in collaboration – an understanding of what works for both parties?

For me, it feels better to leave out the punishment with any child.  Tell me what you need, ask me what I need, and let’s come to an understanding together.

So you say, “That is a great thought, but not possible with a 16 year-old!”  And I say, it is possible, and actually works really well! (It really works with any age, teenagers just make the story better.)

So my 16-year old came home late on a Saturday night.  Not just late, really late.  Like 2 hours past the time he said he would be home.  I am angry.  But under the feeling of anger I am really worried that something terrible has happened to him.  I am sitting, waiting, and playing the worst-case scenarios out in my mind.  When he finally rolls in the door, he acts like nothing has happened.

I am angry and my first thought is, “What can I do to him to make him suffer as much as I have suffered tonight?”  The punishments in my mind range from taking his cell phone, taking his computer, grounding him, or all of the above.

I take a moment to remember my conversation with the patrol officer and instantly decide to change my approach.  As my son walks in the door, I ask him to come sit down for a minute.  The conversation sounds like this:

“I have to tell you first, I am glad you are at home safe.  I am not feeling good about this situation because I thought we were on the same page when you left the house earlier.  I thought we agreed for you to be home at 12am.  When the clock hit 12:01, I instantly started worrying that something terrible had happened.“

My son interrupts, “Mom, I am fine, I just was late.”

I continue. “Please let me finish my thoughts and then I will hear yours.  When you were late, I automatically thought something was wrong.  You are respectful, considerate, and caring, and I know that when you have run late in the past, you call.  You are one of the most important people in my world.  I know you are growing into your self and soon you will be out of this house, able to stay out as long as you want without feeling like you need to “report” to someone.  I appreciate and honor your independence.  I am asking you to work with me until you do leave so we can both feel good about our remaining time together.  Do you have any suggestions about how we can both get our needs met?”

The alternative?  I punish him. He is angry and resentful.  And honestly he just finds a way to get around it the next time, much like my speeding story.

I look at this as an opportunity for both of us to practice communicating what we need and practice getting both of our needs met, free from anger, shame or punishment.  I can promise you that having an honest conversation is more effective than a punishing one.  When I state clearly what I need and ask my child to clearly state his needs, we work together to come to a solution that offers us both a feeling of respect, power and success.

 

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How Modern Parents Use “Time-Out”

As I started writing this blog post, a thought came across my mind: “I wonder who invented Time-Out and what was the original purpose behind it?”

A few clicks and I arrived at Wikipedia!

Time-Out was actually a concept invented by Arthur Staats in 1958.  (Quick thought….50+ years seems like a very long time ago – two generations ago to be exact.)  His idea and work revolved around the principle of:

“…conditioning responses using extrinsic reinforcers.  It was a way to separate a child from an environment where inappropriate behavior has occurred, and intended to give an over-excited child time to calm down, thereby discouraging such behavior.”

I love the modern age we live in with information at my fingertips!  AND I am so thankful I did not have this information as easy to access when I started working with children.  I may have believed this more punishing version of the Time-Out.  This version is sort of the home Dunce Cap approach for bad behavior.  “Extrinsic Reinforcers” is a fancy way of saying “I, the adult, am going to enforce obedience by banishing you from an activity until you straighten up.”

When I started working with children, my natural response to negative behavior was Time-Out.  However MY Time-Out was structured more along the lines of a sports definition of time-out.  As I refer back to Wiki I find the definition, a perfect match!  Wiki defines a sports time-out as:

“A halt in play, allowing the coaches to communicate with the team, to determine a strategy or inspire morale.” 

LOVE IT!!!

So what does Modern Time-Out look like? What is the 2012 version vs. the 1958 version?

Let’s say I come home a little stressed from my day.  Okay…a lot stressed.  I start making dinner and my son says, “What are we having for dinner?”  I answer quickly, “Spaghetti.” He begins to go into a meltdown over spaghetti, which of course is not really about spaghetti.  He is just feeling the stress of the situation and mirroring back my own vibe.  But I go with spaghetti being the problem.

He is screaming, “I DON’T WANT SPAGHETTI!” And now I am ready to throw the spaghetti on the floor!  At least the dog wants spaghetti!  I know this is only going to get worse.  So I decide to insist on a Time-Out.

Here’s the twist…. the Time-Out is for me.

I say to my darling little man, “Mom needs a take a minute.  I am angry and I need to take a minute for myself to feel better.  I am going to go to the bathroom to give myself a moment to remember what I love about me, you, and dinnertime as a family.  When I feel better, I will come out.  I know you will give me the time I need to feel happy again.  Thank you.”

I go to the bathroom and move myself from anger, to frustration, to hope, to knowing that this is not about spaghetti.  This is a moment for me to practice.  Practice feeling better.  Practice being the mom, the person, I am in my heart.

What am I giving my child?  Amazing gifts!

I am taking responsibility for my feelings, and modeling how to handle these moments in life.  I am freeing my child from the responsibility of behaving a certain way to make ME feel good.  I am giving my child a chance to model a strategy for himself (which is how to handle spaghetti night and feel good about it) and I am inspiring morale!

In the end, it’s not about spaghetti.  It’s about the energy I brought to the conversation.  I was stressed, and my child just mirrored that right back to me.  When I take a moment for myself, get in a better space, my son has the opportunity to do the same for himself, and spaghetti is no longer going to the dogs.

(Note:  The topic of punishment, behavior and Time-Outs is a rich one!  This is just one of many Time-Out examples.  Subscribe to Blog updates to get more techniques on working with your kids.)

 

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Spare the rod and spoil the child. What a great idea!

Mom Dad Spanking Child

What I know for sure: when I was a child, spanking didn’t motivate, inspire, or fear me into any behavior or decision that my parents wanted for me in the moment.

It actually made me angry, frustrated and humiliated.  It often sparked a sense of revenge in my mind.  I also found it very ironic, even as a small child, when my parents would say, “It’s not ok to hit anyone, especially in anger.” (They said this after I beat the crap out of the boy that teased me year after year about being fat.) And yet on occasions when I was disciplined with spanking or slapping, it was always as an outlet for their anger.  My parents were responding to my behavior with anger – exactly what they told me NOT to do.

Children are literal.  They can’t make sense of mixed messages.  Here are a few questions children have asked me over the years:

  • “Why can my mom hit me when she is mad, but I get in trouble when I hit my brother because I am mad?”
  • “How come my dad got in trouble with the policeman for hitting his friend, but not when he hits me? ”
  • “Why do I have to say sorry to my friend for hitting him when my parents never say sorry to me?”
  • “Why is it ok for my parents to hit me, but my mom gets mad if my grandparents do it?”

As an educator and caregiver, it was never an option (morally or legally) to spank – ok let’s call a spade a spade – hit a child.  I had to find clever, inventive ways to get the desired response from the children I worked with.  I know, beyond any doubt, that is not only possible, but also probable, to get further with a child by leaving spanking out of the equation.

With that being said, I was raised deep in the heart of Texas where an ongoing motto is, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”  I am not interested in changing your values or morals.  I am interested in offering you another way that feels better as a parent and as a child.

Here’s one for you…

So my child and I are in disagreement and it escalates to the famous one liner that sends me to into a rage in a matter of seconds:

“I hate you!”

I instantly flash to the time when I uttered those words to my mom 30 years ago.  I was “schooled” with a slap across the face.  I knew that my mother loved me.  I knew I had pushed her to a place beyond words.  It wasn’t the slap that made me question my choice of words:  it was the look in mom’s face.  Her face told a thousand stories all starting with, “How could you…?”

Now it’s my turn.  I immediately know that I want to handle this in a way that honors myself first, and my child.

Even if I have reached a point of rage, I have the presence of mind to stop and ask myself, “Am I in an angry, frustrated, or in an annoyed space right now?”  When I answer “Yes!!!!” to this question, I know in my heart it is not the right time to address my child.  I take this as a sign to remove myself physically from the space we are sharing and put myself in a space (usually a bathroom) where I can reflect on who I am and who I want to be as a parent.  And most of all I take this time to remember the great things that my child brings to my life.  My goal here is to view my own child with love, and not anger.  When I feel good again (sometimes this takes minutes, sometimes hours), I come back to my child.  When I am ready, I take the time to address the situation in a better state.

I know my parents did not find pleasure in spanking me, they didn’t even feel that it was the “right thing to do in the moment.” They just were frustrated or mad with my behavior and felt pushed into a corner with nowhere to go. They didn’t have the tools and techniques to do anything different.  I know that I have grown over time and am now equipped with the information I need to be the parent I want to be.  I have never met a parent that wants to hit their child. They just don’t know what else to do.  Every time I practice walking away and disengaging when I am angry, I get to come back and be the parent I want to be.

 

 

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