During a yoga class recently, the teacher shared a mantra which I immediately applied to my practice as it was so helpful. She invited us to think of getting to our mat as an opportunity not an obligation. As I was driving home, I realized how much it might help parents to use the same mantra as it applies to parenting. If you’ve taken one of my workshops or we’ve worked together in coaching before, you know I spend a lot of time and focus on preventative maintenance. My mentor, Dr. Laura Markham, outlines the tools of preventative maintenance as: welcoming feelings, empathy, special time, roughhousing, and routines.
These are things we do in our family every day - because they work - they really do! We also do them because I want to be in integrity. I wouldn’t respect a coach who didn’t do the things they recommended! And I would be lying if I said there are some days where one of them slips through the cracks or I am not so excited about special time. There are days when I just want to focus on my to-do list after we get home from school even though we have an agreement to do special time and roughhousing right away. Some times these tools feel like an obligation - one more thing on the to-do list. I don’t know about your list but mine is long enough already. Science tells us that mindset matter. The way we think about things creates our beliefs and feelings which create our behavior. We can change so much simply just changing our thinking. I know this sounds simple but it is the foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy which is one of the most well-known types of therapy. How can we apply this to using the tools of preventative maintenance? What if instead of looking at them as obligations, we saw them as an opportunity? Reframing our thinking can create a much more positive and emotionally generous approach. When you consider the tools of preventative maintenance, how can we reframe each as an opportunity?
Let’s start with welcoming feelings. We all know that feelings and especially expressing them have a bad rap in our culture. Many of us were told not to cry or express disappointment or pain. Buck up! I’ll give you something to cry about! Walk it off! Letting go of these messages so we don’t pass them onto our children takes awareness, acknowledgment, and action. Being mindful of the way we feel in response to our children’s feelings is the first step. What do their tears bring up in us? How can we accept their tears or anger or disappointment without trying to stop it or fix it? Holding space and welcoming feelings is an opportunity to create closeness and intimacy and gives our children the message - feelings are okay! Welcoming feelings also provides an opportunity to keep the emotional backpack from filling up so quickly.
Empathy is an opportunity to deepen your connection with your child, help them to build emotional intelligence and see things from their perspective. So often parents are frustrated by their children’s behavior because they can’t see what’s underneath it. Practicing empathy helps us to recognize the feelings driving the behavior. By modeling empathy, we teach our child how to better relate to others on an emotional level allowing them to welcome their own feelings and the feelings of those around them.
Special time and roughhousing provide similar opportunities for our relationships with our children. The average child goes through their days making few significant choices and often feels powerless. Imagine how you would feel if someone told you every single move to make or what to touch all day long. Research tells us it is the perception of power rather than actual power that matters. Both special time and roughhousing provide opportunities for our children to feel powerful. Getting to decide what their parents does for those designated times is a joy for them. So often, our children just need an opportunity to feel like the BMOC (Big Man On Campus) and being in charge during these experiences does just that. Laughter is also a huge opportunity created by special time and roughhousing. Helping to slough off the top layers of the emotional backpack leads to a more joyful and cooperative kiddo. Laughing and playing together increase connection and give both of you a burst of oxytocin - the bonding hormone!
Routines give us an opportunity to create a rhythm to our days which provide comfort and reassurance to our children (and to most adults too!). When we have a routine in place, whether it be casual verbal reminders or a chart with the morning routine, children can rest in knowing what’s next without having to need as much support or guidance. Referring back to the routine or list takes some of the pressure off of both parents and children leaving an opportunity to connect while working together. Routines also allow for our children to feel empowered and develop a sense of mastery around tasks they complete or participate in on a daily basis.
I find if I am paying attention, there are lessons all around us. Since parenting is truly about our relationship with ourselves and our children, we can apply most lessons to the joys and challenges of those relationships. Looking at these tools of daily preventative maintenance as opportunities rather than obligations may be just what you need to change your mind and to take the steps to make them happen in your family. As I always say, I can’t make too many promises but I can promise if you implement these tools into your family’s daily life, things will change and they will change quickly.10 How’s that for a challenge?