You’ve been there. Maybe it was yesterday, or this morning, or 5 minutes ago when your child decided to lose their mind and completely dismiss what’s acceptable behavior in public. With everyone to watch.
- Your child is running up and down the aisles or screaming non-stop on a crowded airplane (and everyone is giving you the hairy eyeball); or when
- Your child is melting down at Grandma’s house because it just isn’t the right cheese and cracker; or when
- Your child takes the present from Uncle Joe and instead of saying thank you, says “Is that all I’m getting?”; or perhaps
- Your teen has decided to check out of all group conversation and resorts to snapchat during an important family gathering
I refer to these hair-raising moments as Red Zone Moments. And we all experience them, over and over again, because frankly, children aren’t perfect. And it’s time that you stop expecting them to perform perfectly.
What matters most is not if your children behave perfectly, it’s how you respond to them when they don’t.
It is often overlooked that our response to our children’s behavior is the thing that makes it either go away or causes us to slide further down that slippery slope into the rabbit hole. If we give into the whining, try to yell or bribe them back to good behavior, or embarrass them with a forced thank you (or apology), we’ve stooped to short sighted parenting strategies that usually backfire, and definitely fracture our relationships. So what are you supposed to do when your kids misbehave in front of an audience?
As tempting as it is to jump in and “teach” the child some lesson, there are only 3 things to do in a Red Zone Moment.
1. Do not make things worse
- by trying to teach a lesson when you and your child are heated. This is not a time for a lecture, reminder, “listen to me right now” talk, or timeout. You will deal with the incident later, when you are calm (or as a group in family meeting). Take a lesson from the real world and know that fights and lectures don’t facilitate positive change.
2. Move the action forward. So often we get “stuck” in the Red Zone Moment and feel we must stay there until everyone is calm and the problem has been solved. This rarely happens. Instead, move yourself and your child to the next thing. Do whatever you must in that red zone moment – including, giving a hug, walking away for a moment, distracting, allowing for another 5 minutes, making a joke, or simply taking a deep breath picking up the child and walking out.
You are not giving up. And you are not giving in. You are acting in a responsible and respectful manner becoming of a thoughtful and loving adult who is also a parent. Use your imagination here. The goal is to gain control of the situation and move both you and your child out of intense emotions and find calm and control in any way possible.
3. Take a snapshot of the situation so you can assess what happened when you are calm, thoughtful and loving. The goal is to develop an intentional plan that will minimize or prevent further incidents and a plan for navigating through another event with respect and love for yourself and your child. Reconnect with your child and assure them the incident was part of life and nothing to be concerned about. Then work on a solution with your child to build cooperation and connection.
Yes, you might get folks who roll their eyes or tell you that you have to “clamp down” or “do something”, but you and I both know this strategy is far more effective if your goal is to treat you and your child with dignity and respect.
You might respond to those naysayers with a smile and a “we’ll deal with this at home or in a family meeting when we’re a bit more composed”. Or perhaps you won’t respond at all, and simply breathe and smile showing that you aren’t rattled by your little one’s behavior. (It’s ok to fake it ‘till you make it on that one:)
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