By Neil McNerney
As a devoted reader of Loudoun Now from the beginning, I am thrilled to be able to contribute a monthly column on parenting and relationships. In the spirit of New Year, I am asking you to consider Calm Leadership as a worthy resolution.
Before I had kids, I was the calmest, most laid-back person you could imagine. I was an elementary school counselor and was unflappable. I could handle any issue, emergency, or crisis with complete calm. So, when I told my fellow teachers that my wife was expecting, the universal response was: “Oh, you are going to be a great dad.”
And then I made my first parenting mistake. I believed them.
Of course, I would be a good dad, I assumed. I’m knowledgeable about kids and cool under pressure. What I didn’t know was the fact that it is a completely different situation when the kids are your own. Facing my temper came quickly, as Max seemed to have a mind of his own when it came to the simple issue of swaddling him. Every time I tried to wrap him in the blanket, kind of like a burrito, he would squirm out. I’m sure a lack of sleep contributed to this, but I began to think he was doing it on purpose! I began taking it personally.
This is one of the most difficult things about staying calm when it comes to our own kids: It is very difficult to not take their actions personally. But the truth is, most of what they do is not meant for us to take personally. Leaving dishes out, the messy room, the unfinished homework are not messages to incite your anger. They are typical things that kids do.
Here is the problem: When we lose our temper, we lose our chance to be a good leader. Our thoughts become muddled and we often say things we end up regretting. If we stay calm with our kids, our ability to create change increases dramatically. When we stay calm, the focus stays on our child, not on us.
Our goal should be to avoid what I call “The Incredible Hulk Complex.” If you remember the original show, Bruce Banner used to say: “Don’t make me angry. You won’t like me when I’m angry.” It was a clever saying, but it is not a great way to lead our kids. When our kids are focused only on not making us angry, they are not focusing on the other benefits of behaving well, keeping their things nice, and doing well in school.
Does this mean that you should be a pushover? Absolutely not. My goal, as a father, is to have high expectations for my kids, but I try to show those expectations in a calm manner. I have worked with many parents who would lose their temper and not enforce any rules. Their kids would learn to “weather the storm,” and then go back to behaving poorly.
In future columns, I will discuss effective options to discipline besides temper. In the meantime, resolving to stay calm is a great first step.
[Neil McNerney is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Leesburg, author of Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out!, and coauthor of The Don’t Freak Out Guide for Parenting Kids with Asperger’s.]