1. An event occurs which leads to thoughts
If you are like most parents, you will go through rough times with your kids - whether it is a public tantrum, a bout of defiance, or siblings fighting. When parenting, events occur that can knock us off kilter. Let's suppose you are in the store and your six year old has a tantrum when you tell him that you will not buy a treat at the check out line. Beyond that, after you pay he refuses to follow you out of the store. Instead, he proceeds to lay down on the floor screaming. In this situation the parent may think thoughts such as, I cannot let him get away with this... he is a spoiled brat... how dare he do this... he is doing this to manipulate me...this behavior is intolerable... he has gone too far this time... Even loving parents think thoughts like this from time to time. And considering the child is having a tantrum in a public setting, which can be stressful and embarrassing experience to go through, it is normal to have thoughts like this! Yet, staying with these kind of negative thoughts will not bring you closer to your child nor will it enable you to elicit cooperation. So take some time to ponder what kind of automatic thoughts come up for you in the heat of the moment.
2. Thoughts lead to feelings
Thoughts such as, I cannot let him get away with this, will create feelings. A common feeling resulting from this type of thought is anger. Most parents know that they do not parent very well when angry. In fact, it is very difficult to do anything well when feeling anger as our bodies are designed to move into fight, flight, or freeze when angry. Therefore, It will be important to recognize that your child is not the enemy nor is he making you angry. Once you recognize that you are feeling anger, you will want to acknowledge it and feel it. There is nothing wrong with feeling anger! You will want to learn how to allow your anger to be present and let it flow through you.
3. Feelings influence what kind of action you take
But, lets suppose you end up taking action while you are feeling anger. When angry, you are likely to parent in a way that is harsh, forceful, or punitive. When you are happy, you are likely to parent in a way that is respectful, kind, and honors your child's dignity. Therefore, an important part of effective parenting will be to not take action with your child until you are back into a balanced state. Of course, there will be times that you cannot do this due to safety reasons or just because we are all human and react impulsively from time to time. So for now, notice how your actions are affected by your feelings.
4. To shift this, begin by catching your thoughts
Now that you have taken some time to notice the types of thinking that leads you into a downward spiral be mindful to catch yourself the next time you get stuck in negative thinking. Sometimes you will catch it, and sometimes you won't. Be patient with yourself!
5. Next, check your thoughts
After catching negative thoughts, spend a few moments to check them. Is your child really a spoiled brat? Or is she just having a really tough time right now. Gather up some evidence on both sides. Maybe most of the time when you say no to a treat he says "ok" and keeps chirping along. Perhaps it is very rare that he has a tantrum when you say no or maybe he rarely asks you for everything. My assumption is that if you take the time to check your thoughts, you will conclude that your child is actually a pretty great kid most of the time but hits some bumps in the road on occasion (like we all do).
6. Lastly, change your thoughts
Once you become well versed at noticing and choosing thoughts, you can pause and change your thoughts. To do this, you simply replace the negative thought with a thought that feels better. I cannot let you get away with this is replaced with thoughts such as: My child is really struggling right now. My child would act better if he knew how. My child does not have the skills to cope with his disappointment in the moment. It is hard to be told that you cannot have something that you really want. There is nothing wrong with wanting a treat. I want treats sometimes too. I sometimes get upset when I cannot have what I want. I am the adult here, I do not like this, but I can handle it. I need to teach him how to handle his upset in a way that is socially appropriate. I will take a moment to care for myself before interacting with him. So on and so forth. Keep choosing thoughts that feel better to you. This will enable you to approach your child with love, acceptance, and grace while still being a leader, authority figure, and guide.