June 14, 2013
Thanks to my friend Liz for her suggestion for this week’s post:
“How to handle a 16 year old drama queen! My parents never figured that out with me. Now I know all too painfully why.”
Wow…I feel you girl! This is truly a moment for Courageous Parenting!
We bring these beautiful beings into the world, love them with all our hearts, and then there are moments where we wonder what has incarnated before our very eyes. My parenting perspective is that a large part of our job is to see, appreciate, and make room for our children to be exactly who they are. That being said, it is also our job to teach them how to live with consideration for others.
We teach them this delicate balance with our responses to them. Ideally, we hold respect for them and model respect for ourselves at the same time. Most important is that all this be done while conveying our love for them. Our response sets the stage for how they experience themselves and help to shape their actions and reactions.
My first piece of advice is do not elevate your response to match their drama; hold to your own center. You don’t need to say a word for your calm energy to convey to them that this is not as serious as they are experiencing it to be. Your standing in the truth helps anchor them. There are tricks to doing this if you find this challenging.
One of mine is to regard them as if I were watching a movie. My poker face is turned on, I am listening, being present, and waiting to see where this ‘plot’ is going. Not every situation requires immediate action. In fact, if it is not a true emergency (your assessment…not theirs) your response can take minutes, hours, or sometimes days. It’s okay. Wisdom takes time.
This can start when they are very young. As an example, when they fall or hurt themselves, control your reaction. Your calm disposition conveys faith in them.
“Oh sweetie, you fell down…are you okay?”
How many times have we seen children fall, break something, or make a mess only to immediately look to their parents for a reaction. They are looking to us to see what their response needs to be. Acknowledging their situation, calmly expressing empathy, and asking questions helps them to self assess and reassures them.
Even if your children are older, it is never too late to change how we respond to their reactions to their lives. Detachment is key. It is their life, their emotional body, not ours after all.
My advice for tantrums and tirades starts from the same place…detachment. You can make space for their feelings and not have to get involved energetically or emotionally. You can acknowledge they are having a tough time, ask if there is something you can offer to help, and then step away. Many times too much attention is fuel to the fire and reinforces the behavior.
My second piece of advice is to talk about what happens during these dramatic moments during a non-dramatic moment. This is an opportunity for you to share about your feelings and experiences, set boundaries for future dramatic moments, or help them to discover understanding about their behavior.
“So Susan/Bobby…you were really upset yesterday when you couldn’t go to the pool with your friends.”
“I felt frustrated seeing you so upset and unable to settle your self down. Is there anything I can do to help when you feel like that? ”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, let me know if you think of anything. Until then, I will probably walk away and give you space to have your feelings until you are ready to calm down. I love you and want to help. When I can’t, I will take some space for myself.”
In this way, you have set the stage to care for yourself and hold a healthy boundary. This is modeling self-respect and you have respected them by not asking them to change who they are. You can also ask them to go to their room in the future when they are feeling this way so they can emote and the family can continue with dinner, homework, etc… This too models respect for everyone.
Creating agreements during calm moments sets the stage for what will happen the next time this happens…and we know it will happen. When the drama ensues, you can acknowledge, empathize with calm words, then gently remind them of the agreements that were made.
“I see how upset you are. Do you remember our agreement for you to go to your room when you feel this way?”
The most important part of all is to do all the above with love in your heart. You can love them; you don’t have to fix them. Words spoken from the heart have remarkable results and are like balm on an open wound.
Check in next week for Part 2 of Save the Drama for Your Mama where I explore the personal and spiritual growth opportunities in challenging situations with our children.