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How Can We Stay Calm When Our Children Don't Listen To Us?

by Allison Carmen


“To conquer oneself is a greater task than conquering others”- Buddha 

Last year, my daughter came down with a sore throat and cold, but she really pushed herself to keep going to school. She kept pushing until one morning I forbade her to go to school and took her to the doctor. All that pushing of hers had resulted in a case of bronchitis. In my mind I decided that she had gotten bronchitis because she was rundown from staying up late doing homework and it therefore followed that this would need to stop.

So that night I put my almost fourteen-year-old daughter with bronchitis to bed at 8 pm. She was very angry about the early bedtime and sat on the floor and refused to get into bed. She came out of her room at least 15 times during the evening and the anger in me escalated. I took away her electronics but it did not seem to make a difference. I had made the decision that she needed more sleep and I had put my foot down. Yet three hours later I was still dealing with her defiance.

At this point in the evening, around 11pm, I temporarily lost my mind. I screamed at the top of my lungs, insisting that she go to sleep. But no matter what I did or said, at midnight I could still hear her moving around and not sleeping. As I lay in bed that night, I realized why I had lost control of my emotions. I saw that I had bought into my own linear story that she must go to sleep at 8pm for her well-being and that every moment she was awake was terrible and would lead to more illness. In hindsight I saw that I was parenting without Maybe.

Of course there are imperative moments when our kids must listen to us, like taking a particular medicine if they are sick or mandatory safety provisions during certain activities. Yet much of what we believe is ”imperative” is a story that we are writing in our minds making us believe that there is only one way for our children to be safe and okay.  In reality, most of the time there is some wiggle room in our mandate and our children will still be fine. I am not saying we should always give them wiggle room, but if it happens and they take it, often it still works out.

For me, however, it is not just the wiggle room that we give our children that concerns me, but also how I acted and felt when my daughter didn’t listen to me. Yet, when I started to say “Maybe everything is okay” in my mind, I gained the perspective that I had lost in the heat of the drama. I still wished she had gone to sleep earlier, but I recognized it was not the end of the world. Just allowing the thought of Maybe to play in my mind lets me pull away from the INTENSITY of the parenting moment when it seems like things must be one way.

The next morning my approach had softened and we were able to talk with less anger and frustration. Because of what had happened the night before, would it take longer for her to get better? Maybe it would, but she would still get better over time. In retrospect, would I still have taken away her electronics? Absolutely.  But I would have remained calm and been able to communicate with her for an acceptable resolution. And Maybe if I had communicated better she would have fallen asleep at 10 pm instead of midnight!

So today, as you face your screaming child who won’t put on her coat or his socks or won’t go to sleep or do their homework or even your defiant teenager who broke a curfew, remember Maybe.  Pause and Breathe and think Maybe everything will be okay.  It will help you remember parenting is a long road and our child’s well-being generally does not come down to one moment.

Let Maybe lighten your heart and bring some softness to the situation.  It will also help you communicate with your child and open all of you to other possible solutions to what you are facing. Who knows, Maybe it will make all the difference!

Allison Carmen is the author of The Gift of Maybe Penguin/Perigee November 2014, she writes a blog for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Allison is a guest lecturer at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. Allison Carmen holds a B.A. in accounting, a J.D. of Law, and a Master’s of Law in taxation.

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