There are many children who could have written this. Some of their parents are together – and fighting. Some are separated – and fighting. What could you say that might be helpful for these families this Christmas?
Here are three key things I’d like Parents to be aware of when there’s the risk of adult conflict in the family
1. To ask themselves: ‘Is home a SAFE PLACE for my child?
2. One really important piece of neuroscience info that can change the way you fight.
3. One useful tool if your blood pressure is rising with other adults connected with you / the children.
Let’s talk about each of these in turn:
1. You’d do anything to protect your children – right? But where do your children turn for safety if you turn into the raging tiger? You’re not thinking about it at the time – but when you start snarling and roaring at your ex / partner / spouse you become someone who is unsafe to be around. No matter how upset you’re feeling, remember that your reaction can be traumatising for the children.
2. In the last decade, neuroscience has taught us more about how the human brain works than in the whole of human history. One huge discovery is that we haven’t got one brain, but, in a sense, three. And the deep inner part of the brain, known as the reptilian brain, is where the survival instinct is triggered. When something happens that makes us feel unsafe, the brain puts all its energy into ‘fight, flight or freeze’. The thinking part of the brain temporarily ‘shuts down’. This means that when you’re in ‘fight’ mode you’re not thinking / reasoning. You’re in ‘attack’ mode. You may be trying to get the other person to ‘see reason’ – but neither of you is able to do this till you’ve calmed down. At this time you’re not stopping to think ‘What will the impact of this be on my kids?’ The secret is to pull back from the situation, when you feel your blood pressure rising. Here’s a link to an article by Val Mullally that explains how in more detail.
3. Your rising sense of anger is an indication you need change. But choose to listen to what your anger is telling you and figure out what’s helpful, before your anger boils over into uncontrolled rage. When someone’s pushing your buttons, take action to bring the change that’s needed whilst you’re still calm enough to think, here are a few possibilities:
* Recognise: ‘Their behaviour is about them, my response is about me.’
* Sometimes what can be helpful is to use lighthearted humour – when you respond in a way that they don’t expect, it usually changes the whole game plan, providing you are all laugh with each other (not at each other!)
* We can choose to let our anger guide us without resorting to aggressive words or actions. Say, for example, your family members are talking about you in a way that isn’t okay for you. Whilst you’re still calm enough to think clearly, you could choose to state your experience and give them an option. ‘I’m not appreciating the conversation. You can chose to talk about something else or you can choose that I leave the room.’ (Only choose this one if you really are prepared to carry it through. And it’s essential, that if you give this choice that your behaviour is calm and quiet).
For more insights on how to behave (children and parents!) in a way that’s going to create connection, i recommend popping Val Mullally’s Parenting book, ‘BEHAVE -What Do When Your Child Won’t’ into your own Christmas stocking.
* Remember that people who have already ‘flipped the lid’ or who have been drinking excessively have moved past reasoning. Don’t try to reason with an un-reasoning person. Just do what’s needed to calm the situation. Focus on keeping yourself and your children safe (emotionally as well as physically).
* Sometimes the only thing you can change is your own attitude. You don’t have to ‘bite the anger hook.’ At one point Val created a poster for herself with fish swimming past a baited hook and the words: ‘Swim on by.’ No-one ‘makes you angry’. It’s your choice.
Percy, before Parents end up on the slippery slope of anger, I wish they’d ask themselves:
‘What will my children remember about this Christmas?’
May it be a happy Christmas.
Day 2 ‘Need’ or ‘Want’
Day 4 Christmas Surprises
Day 6 No Money This Christmas
Day 7 Christmas is for Giving
Day 10 An Attitude of Gratitude
Day 11 Can’t Forgive