For me, this summer was all about traveling and moving. Everywhere I went I saw children playing, misbehaving and being corrected by their parents. It didn't matter if I was in an airport or a rest stop, by the ocean or a river; parents were correcting their children. Normal, right?
Some parents were loud and intense. Others were quiet and threatening. Some used a calm but insistent tone. Others ignored the behavior all together. And some never gave the child a moment's rest; they stood right beside their child correcting e-v-e-r-y-thing the child did as if they were on a mission to attain the impossible: perfection.
I believe that however you choose to parent is your business. No one should undermine your parenting decisions, of course unless there's physical or emotional abuse going on.
This article isn't about how you choose to parent; it's about parenting intensity. (I've touched on this topic once already in Stop, Look, Ask: 3 Tools for Raising Confident Kids.) The number #1 question parents ask me is "Why do I go from calm to e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y angry in 2.5 seconds? I don't really know that I'm doing it until I hear the words coming out of my mouth!" Circle of Moms member Michelle B.'s recent post echos this: "I'm so angry right now my stomach is in knots…I'm afraid I'll explode."
Most parents think that their child's behavior is what's causing them to react. They say, "If my child would just do as I say, then I wouldn't have to react!"
Here's a shocker: Your reaction is already in full bloom by the time your child misbehaves. Your child's misbehavior is just the place where your reaction gets dumped.
The reason I know this is because of how a reaction begins. Reactions begin when our fight or flight response is triggered. You know the trigger in the brain that told us to run so we wouldn't be eaten by a Saber Tooth Tiger. That was a very valuable function of the brain when we were cavemen and cave women, but it complicates things in 2011.
The pace of life is very fast now. Daily activities seem more complicated than ever. Most people get very stressed about all that's on their plates. They tend to think, so what, I'm stressed now; I'll relax later. But that isn't all there is to it.
When we're stressed we unconsciously release chemicals into our system that trigger the fight or flight response. That's how the roller coaster begins! For whatever reason, stress appears in our life. Then our fight or flight response gets turned on and we unconsciously begin to see everything in our world as a threat to our survival.
Our rational mind gets disengaged and our fears become exaggerated. We begin to misperceive that our child's misbehavior, something our partner said, or being stuck in traffic when we need to be somewhere, is a threat to our survival, not just a fact of daily life in 2011.
We become overwhelmed with all this stress and begin seeing our life as a series of short-term emergencies. We lose the ability to relax and enjoy the moment. We feel like everything we do pushes us over the edge, that it's all just too much!
When we live from crisis to crisis, with no relief in sight, parental burnout is inevitable, and we go from calm to reacting in 2.5 seconds!
That sequence of events is what causes the angry reactions we dump on our kids when we correct them.
I am in no way saying that our children shouldn't be corrected, far from it. (Have you read my other articles?)
I just thought you'd want to know where parental intensity and exhaustion is coming from. It all stems from that pesky fight or flight response.
So the next time you're stuck in traffic, or begin yelling at your child, or say something uncalled for to your partner—stop—take a breath and remember, the way I'm looking at things is being skewed because I've lost my mind to my fight or flight response.
Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be, and the founder of Proactive Parenting. Her book and site help parents gain more patience by responding instead of reacting as they deal with the whirlwind of emotions created by raising kids ages 1-10. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.