Maybe it’s an innocent comment like, “Ewww, Mama,your breath stinks, don’t kiss me!” or maybe it’s an angry outburst – name calling and slammed doors. Some things are hard not to take personally.
Do you ever find yourself thinking or saying any of the following?
- You are making me so angry right now!
- Why are you doing this to me?
- Can’t he see he’s hurting me?
- I can’t believe he’s treating me this way! He’s so ungrateful!
If those thoughts are coming up, you’ve got a pretty good indication you’re taking your child’s behavior personally. This means you wind up feeling hurt and angry. The next thing you know you’re in a power struggle with your child, or you’re saying things you swore you’d never say to them – trying to use guilt or shame to get them to behave the way you want them to.
Taking behavior personally makes it much harder to stay calm, much less think of solutions and be a leader. The good news is there are effective ways to detach from your child’s behavior so you can stay calm.
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How can we stay calm and not take things so personally?
First off – give yourself a bit of a break. You are certainly not the first person whose child has gotten on their nerves. Getting on their parents nerves shows kids they have the power to make you react, and even if you’re reacting negatively, power is a huge motivator. This means kids have a knack for finding just what buttons to push to get the strongest reactions from their parents. So – what can you do about it?
5 Strategies for Not Taking Your Child’s Behavior Personally:
1) It helps to remember that behavior is communication. Kid are young. They don’t have your years of experience dealing with frustration, fear or anger and they generally have far fewer resources for handling these big emotions. This means sometimes they express them inappropriately through their behavior.
2) Become familiar with your anger triggers. What actions, words or external circumstances are likely to get under your skin fast? Become familiar with your main anger triggers. As you notice these triggers you may be able to take steps to prevent them, or make plans for how to deal with them in the future.
3) Pause. There are VERY FEW behaviors that require immediate action. I love the way Rachel states this in her own post on not taking behavior personally. Her recommendation is: Stop, Pivot, Breathe. Sometimes you can’t leave the room for your own personal time out, but you can probably turn away or at least close your eyes as you take a deep breath.
It’s important to note that sometimes, if you’re very angry, it’s helpful to pause, catch yourself before exploding, and then simply state: “I’m too angry to talk about this right now.” You can wait out the immediate storm and work on problem solving and teaching once you’re more calm. Kids will not only remember your example of handling anger, they’ll also be more receptive to learning from you when they’re not afraid of your rage.
4) Ask yourself: What am I feeling? Where is this coming from for me? When you notice you’re taking your child’s behavior personally, it’s a great time to be a bit of a detective: What nerve did they touch? When have you felt like this before? What story are you hearing in your head about this behavior or these words? You might not know the answers right away, but investigating can help you understand why you feel so deeply in these moments, and lets you write a new script for yourself.
Recommended Book: Mindsight by Daniel Siegel. We don’t have to stay trapped by our past experiences and traumas. This book tells us how to use mindsight to unravel these traps and resolve recurring conflict in our lives.
5) Change your inner script – when you notice a thought like, “Why is he doing this to me!?” try changing it to: “I wonder what he needs from me right now?” In her book Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids, Bonnie Harris explains:
To affect our child’s behavior, his internal state must first be understood, then accepted, then addressed.
Kids who are “misbehaving” are stressed because of an unmet need. By thinking about what they might need, we move away from taking their behavior personally and move back into being their loving parent and guide.
Let me know in the comments – do your kids get on your nerves? What do you do to stay calm?
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Alissa Zorn is an author, and founder of the website Overthought This. She's a coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa is certified through the International Coach Federation and got her Trauma-Informed Coaching certification from Moving the Human Spirit. She wrote Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection, and is always following curiosity to find her next creative endeavor.