The Attitude

Melissa yelled at her Mom “I hate you. You never let me do anything.” She bolted for the door and walked off down the street. Mom yelled back, “You can’t talk to me that way. You change that attitude right now. I won’t let you talk to me like that.” Mom’s voice trailed off as her daughter left. Mom hopped in the car and began to follow her daughter down the street. It had come to this, going through the neighborhood, Mom and daughter arguing and out of control. Melissa trying to create space from Mom in negative destructive ways, Mom trying to connect using her parent “wisdom and logic”, each feeling desperate in their own way, neither of them connecting meaningfully in any way.

What’s a parent to do? When a parent and child reach out of control feelings, as these two have, very little can be done at the moment. At this moment the real needs have become for safety and emotional space. No productive conversation can be held at this time. Emotions are raging, reactivity and self-protection is all that will happen as long as emotions are at this level. As you will notice, mom told her daughter she couldn’t talk to her “that way”, but she already was talking to her in “that way”.

Children and teens often read parents experientially. They learn to regulate emotions by pushing certain “parent buttons”. When parents become emotionally reactive to their children they give them power over the emotional climate of the house. From my perspective children’s regulation of adult emotion becomes a toxic emotionability. Developmentally, children don’t always have in mind the big picture of how to manage well. Many therapists recommend an active listening process for parents. The only problem with this approach is it doesn’t work. It takes perspective to not react emotionally. Rather than active listening, parents may have to momentarily disengage from their child in order to keep perspective. Parents should come back and address problems when their own emotionality is under control.

Here are keys to managing your child’s emotions on your terms:

1. Anticipate situations and exchanges when your child is likely to become reactive.
2. If your emotions are out of control give yourself a “time out” to get control of your emotions.
3. Don’t personalize your child’s feelings; see their emotions as their problems.
4. Present the attitude – from a calm secure position, present empathy, compassion, concern and understanding for feelings, yet hold them accountable with consequences for their feelings that are acted out.

They may wonder what you’re up to when you provide them the “attitude” rather than being regulated by their attitude.

Should you find yourself in the above situation please give us a call today if you would like to discuss your circumstances and discover other helpful hints to effective child rearing.

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