“A frightened Captain makes a frightened crew.” Lister Sinclair

Most of us love our children dearly, but they can trigger our upset in ways that send us into hurt, anger or even rage before we know what hit us. We may yell, threaten, punish or ignore our kids if we find ourselves feeling hurt or disrespected, despite wishing we could keep our cool.

In my work, I talk about three ways that we can relate to our children. Using my right hand to represent the parent and my left hand to represent the child, the right hand is above the left when we are what I call the Captain of the ship, staying loving, calm and confident— even when our children’s behavior isn’t what we would like it to be.

When we are interacting in this way, our kids see us as steady and reliable, and they relax in the knowledge that we are able to navigate their stormy seas without leaping over the side of the ship when the going gets rough.

When our children do or say something that upsets us, we often move into what I call Lawyer mode. We may feel disrespected, ignored or unappreciated, pushing against our child who pushes right back. This is where arguments and power struggles take place, with each side trying to “win.” No one is in charge.

And when our child does something that really hurts or angers us, we move into Dictator mode, relying on bribes, threats and punishments to try to control our children’s behavior.

Let’s say your son asks if you’ll make him pasta with butter after you’ve served him the healthy dinner you’ve worked hard to make. As the Captain of the ship, you might say, “I know you like pasta and butter, and this stew doesn’t look as yummy. Unfortunately, this is the only dinner I’m making tonight, sweetheart. You’re welcome to put together a sandwich if you’d like.” You don’t feel outraged, and don’t take your child’s behavior personally.

He may say, “It’s not fair! You never make what I like!” If you tell yourself that he doesn’t appreciate all you do for him, you may angrily defend or explain yourself. “That’s ridiculous! Just the other night I made your favorite casserole…” You’re now in Lawyer mode.

And if things deteriorate still further, he might announce in fury, “I’m not eating this stupid stew! I hate your cooking!” Feeling desperate and out of control, you angrily react by saying, “Don’t eat then! You don’t know how lucky you are!” You’re now in Dictator mode, feeling hurt and disrespected because you’ve built a case in your mind about why he “should” treat you better.

Most of us have some relearning to do so that we can bypass Lawyer and Dictator mode; it isn’t easy to simply stay calm and not get pulled into heated arguments or threats when our children push our buttons. Thankfully, it is possible to become that calm, confident Captain of the ship.

Please click here to learn more about my live, interactive 6 week Parenting Without Power Struggles course if you would like help in being that Captain of the ship–even when the parenting seas get rough and rocky!

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