I figured out when my daughter was a toddler that I was fully responsible for most of her breakdowns! Not directly, but because I wasn't listening to her toddler cues. I was usually hell-bent on doing something I wanted to do and had dragged her along past nap-time. Or I hadn't properly prepared us to get somewhere on time, and I was irritable and trying to rush her. It all came back to mom. Making choices that were good for her was also a good plan for me. I learned to be a step ahead, to understand my daughter's dynamics, and to respect my hot-buttons.
It's okay to get mad. You get to model the 'dark side' to your kids, too, and teaching them how to safely cycle through anger might be the most important element in demonstrating the healthy rhythm of home and self-regulation.
I have worked really hard on my patience over the years. My family has not perfected tranquility by any means; I think what we have learned to do better is cycle our anger down non-destructively:
- I force myself to calmly verbalize my irritation to my kids a few steps before I lose it (and give them opportunities to quickly find a solution or to rectify a bad situation if they are to blame). Verbal de-escalation is one of the big steps in my self-regulation, and I force myself to 'talk' before I need to yell.
- I use a 'special phrase' before needing to go to anger; this warns my kids that they have pushed me to my limit ("I have a really bad headache moving in" is my red flag!)
- We talk about our feelings a lot; I have found that using empathy on an angry child is a major de-fuser and huge parent tool.
- If one of my kids has a melt-down, we analyze what went wrong afterwards and come up with better solutions to express mad without being out of control (sometimes we even role-play). This is a good follow-up to a child's tantrum, along with required hugs. If I have a tantrum, I apologize, and hug them even more!
The materials for this course have been reprinted with permission from the book Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox Building Connections, edited by Jean MacLeod and Sheena Macrae Copyright © 2006 EMK Press, all rights reserved. The complete 520 page book covering all aspects of becoming and being an adoptive family is available at Amazon.com.