How Automatic Thoughts Almost Ruined the Day

This past weekend my husband and I decided to go to our local ski mountain and teach our kids how to ski.  We are not frequent skiers, in fact this was the first time we had skied together in countless years.  But we decided we needed to get out of town and this was the perfect opportunity to do so.  We told the kids (ages 4 and 5) when they woke up on Sunday morning  that this was the plan (and they were very excited!) and by 7:45am we were off.  We knew, logically, that taking kids skiing for the first time was bound to be difficult.  Borrowing equipment, filling out forms, waiting in lines, trying oddly fitting equipment on, climbing the stairs holding hands with a kid on one side and 2 pairs of skis (theirs and ours) on the other, (not to mention the actual skiing part!)….we knew it was going to be a lot.  But we had the desire to ski and the kids were excited so we went despite all of the reasons we could have opted not to.

What we were not prepared for was the actual reality of how frustrating the process of teaching kids how to ski would be.  Since neither of us are really well-versed in how to teach skiing we got onto the snow, put their skis on and tried to send them for a lesson.  We wanted to stick around for the lesson since it was their first time ever at the mountain and we didn’t know the instructors.  The first child flat out refused to attend a  lesson after realizing how hard skiing would be from first touching snow to about 100 yds away from where the lesson began.  The second child agreed to do the lesson (despite the fact that on the way there he professed to be an “expert skier”–gotta love 5 year old’s confidence).  He quite the lesson 20 minutes later after realizing that skiing is actually VERY hard!

This is where I really notice my own negative self-talk coming up.  I could almost witness these automatic thoughts coming up (thank you mindfulness practice for teaching me how to “witness my thoughts”) and saying:

Actual thoughts during the day:

  • Why did we bother taking our children skiing?  
  • What did we expect?
  • Why is my child refusing to take a lesson? Doesn’t he want to learn how to ski?
  • Can’t I go for a run down the slopes? I really want to go…and I have to sit here and watch them NOT ski??! This is not fair.
  • They’re tired.  They’re hungry.  Again.
  • We never get to do anything fun because they are so whiny.
  • Why won’t they listen?
  • My child is so floppy/lazy/uncoordinated.
  • This cost a lot of money and they are just sitting here watching…we could have done that for free!

I literally had all of these thoughts. I am not proud but that is the nature of automatic thoughts.  They are not conscious, but rather appear when some emotion deep inside of us is triggered.  The goal of conscious parenting is to notice those thoughts, try to figure out where they are coming from, and try to find a mature and conscious resolution to that trigger.

So we took a break, went to the lodge to get a snack and just relax.  We ended up sitting in the lodge for about an hour with a friend and her daughter who we ran into there.  They have been skiing many times and while we were there her 3 year old daughter went up the chair lift with her and skied down an adult-sized slope (without being attached to her mom. Impressive no?!)  During that hour I turned to my husband probably at least 4 times and said “let’s just get out of here, do you want to go? …ugh…Let’s go!”.  But something kept us there for a little longer and eventually our friend decided to take her daughter to the snow tube run they had set up as a special event that day.  As we left the lodge, my eldest turned to me and said “I want to try skiing again!”.  

So this was the moment of truth.  Do I tell my child that he lost his opportunity so we are done?  Do I tell them I am tired (from the entire shlep of this and/or of hearing them whine)?  Something told me to let them have a second chance.  

At that point, my friend offered to take my eldest up the “magic carpet” and down the “bunny hill” to give him an initial taste of skiing and teach him how to make a “pizza’ out of his skis while I took her daughter to do a couple snow-tube rides with my other son.   She also gave me some parental empathy (which is basically like alchemy, if you ask me) that changed my entire perspective.  She said, simply, “taking kids to ski for the first time is such a shelp and is so annoying”.  Ahhh yes!!  Literally that was all I needed to readjust my attitude and be a calm, conscious, and mature parent again.  My entire mindset about the day shifted when I heard that this was all a normal first-time experience (again, which I logically knew but had quickly forgotten in the heat of the moment).  I relaxed, smiled, and accepted the as-is of this situation.  

Some magic happened during those 20 minutes and my eldest went down the bunny hill with my friend two times and actually enjoyed himself (in fact his exact words were “ok, now I really am a good skier, just let me go down alone!!).  My youngest relaxed and after 3 snow tube runs with his buddy, and seeing his brother enjoy skiing, decided that he wanted to try again too.  I then took him down 3 bunny hill runs and we had an amazing time.

We left the mountain an hour later on a high.  This day, which could have easily become a really bad memory, became a really exciting beginning for us and something we decided we wanted to do more of in the future.  Having fun together as a family, being outdoors together, getting exercise together: these are the things we want for our family and skiing was it.  It just takes some teaching and learning–for all of us–to make this vision a reality.  

As we drove away, the new monologue in my brain–my new automatic self talk became:

  • What a fun day.
  • Learning to ski is really hard!
  • Skiing with kids is really hard!
  • Watching your kid stand on skis is charming, hilarious, and impressive.
  • We all laughed so much together.
  • I’m glad we took that break and reset.
  • I’m glad we stayed.
  • My kids are champs for getting up and trying again over and over and over again.
  • My kids are brave.
  • My kids are strong.
  • I cannot wait to go skiing again!

What a day!

What automatic thoughts show up when you are triggered?  How does that effect the way you parent?  How could challenging those thoughts change you and your relationship with your child?

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(C) 2017, Nurture: Family Education & Guidance

 

Rethink Discipline

Behavior is always an expression of needs.  Good behavior is simply needs being met and not-so-good behavior is a cry for help.  But most young kids don’t have the emotional maturity to say “parents, I’m feeling really ‘x’ right now, I could use some love and to learn some strategies to use when this happens ”.  Of course– that would be ridiculous—so instead they behave in another way that gets their needs met and unfortunately, adults often see those behaviors at a surface level and do not take the time to understand the underlying root cause of those behaviors.

Typical discipline at home usually looks like being: yelled at, grounded, sent to room, time out, taking away a privledge, spanked or roughed.  Most families work from the belief that the parent is the authority and should have total respect from the kids.

Their are five criteria for effective discipline according to Dr. Jane Nelson of Positive Discipline:

  1. Helps children feel a sense of connection. (Belonging and significance.)
  2. Is mutually respectful and encouraging. (Kind and firm at the same time)
  3. Is effective long-term. (considers what the child is thinking, feeling, learning, and deciding about himself and his word–and what to do in the future to survive or thrive.)
  4. Teachers important social and life skills. (respect, concern for others, problem solving, cooperation as well as the skills to contribute to the home, school, or larger community.)
  5. Invites children to discover how capable they are. (encourages the constructive use of personal power and autonomy.)

All people, even kids, want to always feel a sense of love and safety.  But unfortunately traditional discipline does not facilitate those feelings and in fact, it normally goes in direct conflict with those feelings.  Fundamental to conscious discipline is a focus on the child as having the locus of control (as opposed to the caregiver).  Clearly, age, temperament, and unique personality have to be factored into any approach you choose to take but the three biggest factors one must confront in order to rearrange poor behavior patterns, of any age child, are in the areas of connection, boundaries, and consequences.

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from consciousdiscipline.com

1. Understanding Consequences

When one is considering consequences it is important to think about whether or not their are already natural consequences in place.  Natural consequences (aka. “logical consequences”) are obvious outcomes or effects that occur without any human intervention or action (ex. kid hits sibling and sibling doesn’t want to play with him anymore).  Unnatural consequences  are imposed by people and are usually based on their culture, world-view, and beliefs.  They are inherently coercive and power-centric (ex. kid hits sibling and gets sent to timeout bench).  Natural consequences help maintain the parent-child relationship because there is no power differential, only empathy and support.  Unnatural consequences are really a euphemism for discipline; they can be somewhat random and do not directly relate to the reason the child was being punished.  Unnatural consequences reinforce the parent as being in power and the child as less-than. The goal of any consequence is to immediately stop the behavior and to teach different behavior.  So instead of interjecting power, which is truly rather artificial and will degrade the quality of the parent-child relationship, try relying on the natural consequence more frequently and using any “bad behavior” as a teaching opportunity.

Think about the typical discipline issues in your home.  Are the consequences your child faces typical natural or unnatural?

2. The Strength of Your Boundary

One critical factor in giving your child boundaries is deciding what exactly you are willing to let your kid get away with.  You have to decide if you are drawing a line in the sand or a line in stone.  

If one is drawing a line in sand or a negotiable boundary, the first need is to evaluate whether it is worth having the line at all.  It is OK to tell a child that you do not have an immediate answer and need time to think about it.  Engage them in a discussion about the pro’s and con’s.  Let them practice seeing both the positive and the negative to the situation and let them help come up with alternatives.  Even little kids will appreciate being included in the discussion.  We all want our kids to be good at making decisions, so illuminate your thought process and help them develop theirs.

Recommended reading for anyone in any type of intimate relationship–marriage, parenting, or otherwise.

 

If you are drawing a line in stone, aka a firm boundary, you need to mean what you say and say what you mean.   Examples of lines in stone for most families deal with safety in some way.  Having a firm boundary does not mean refusing a discussion through what relationship expert Dr. John Gottman refers to as “stonewalling”.  Stonewalling, or refusing to engage in discussion or explanation, chips away at relationships and breaks trust with the exact person with whom you want you to trust with even the toughest discussions: your child.  Reject the kinds of parenting that says “because I said so” even when it is tempting to do so.  Communicate with empathy, solidity, and openness despite challenging behavior from your child and see it as an opportunity to attune to their inner-world.

When extinguishing a bad behavior from a childs’ repertoire, say nagging or hitting for example, that behavior tends to get worse before it gets better.  This can be confusing and throws a lot of parents because when they try to set a boundary and all of a sudden the behavior is worse they think they somehow messed up in extinguishing the behavior and go back on their boundary.  This is detrimental to the boundary one is trying to set.  

Remember that authoritative parents let their boundary be known and talked about and can hold the firmest of boundaries with love, that is why they are refered to as “tough love” parents.  This does not mean you will waiver.  It will depend on the situation and whether you are drawing a land in the sand or a line in stone.

3. Connection is the Foundation

Although this is the last point, this is really the most important.  Connection is absolutely vital to teaching your child anything and enjoying the process of doing so.  The first and most important relationships in a child’s life are those with his or her parents.   In fact, in  group counseling one of the primary goals of that experience is “corrective recapitulation of primary family”.  The meaning of this is to show proper functioning of interpersonal relationships.  Because the foundation of all relationships, parent-child and otherwise, is trust and connection it is important to give ample energy to making sure your attachment is strong.  Traditional discipline has relied on parents being in power and making rules and demanding unconditional respect.  The new approach, the conscious approach, declassifies the parents from ruler and promotes them to teacher and supporter who can be relied on for guidance even when the child is displaying their worst behavior.  

 Taking time to enjoy your kids—and letting them enjoy you—will put the relationship capital in the bank.  And when you need to–or mess up like we all do–and take withdraw from your relationship “bank account”, it will be OK.  You won’t be steeped in the kind of guilt you used to experience because you will be able to reflect on all the good, fun, relationship-building you have done and know that it will carry you through a rough patch.

As you are rethinking how consequences, boundaries, and connection are used in your home, be aware of how you were raised and how that informed you.  Parenting is hereditary, learned, and one of our most basic cultural constructs.  Yet, with awareness, education, and practice one can change the primal desire for power over their children.

What are the most common issues that require consequences in your house?

Does your approach to consequences typically show more connection or boundaries?

(c) 2016, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance