Do you feel like you are on auto-response parenting? Here’s how I move on to responsive parenting.
Upstairs the children were romping about and screaming at each other.
I paused as I was chopping mushrooms, hoping they would stop, but instead I heard a scream.
I ran over to see what was happening and found my eldest sitting on top of my youngest child, a tangle of arms and legs oozing out of a single office chair.
She dangled a sock in his face, because who can only guess the reason.
He yelled, “Get off me”
I had no idea what they were arguing about. All I could clearly see was that the chair looked dangerously close to falling, and I heard my words before I realized I was saying them:
- “Stop it immediately”
- “What’s going on here?”
- To her: “Why are you hurting your brother?”
- To him: “What did you do?”
- To the two: “You know better.”
They were still maneuvering in the chair. The chair was still threatening to knock her over. They were still screaming.
My flood of questions and orders reached zero points. De nada. Nothing.
But luckily it dawned on me that second.
I had switched to “parent language”.
I was in AUTO-RESPOND and had to make a change.
Only then did I know what to do …
Did it happen to you? My kids actually call it my “teacher’s voice”. (Sorry, teacher, no offense, I have no idea where you got this from, but it suggests my serious tone and a more posh British accent rather than my usual casual twang).
Anyway, it’s my go-to, “I’ll fix this,” and in fact, it’s about as useful in our house as the old DVDs I still find stacked in drawers and between shelves.
My children close like shells when they hear it.
You’d think that would be enough to stop me from using it, but like I said, it’s my natural choice until I remember it doesn’t work because it just doesn’t work.
Did this happen to you?
Did this happen to you? Are you switching to your parents’ auto responder?
Often times you will hear yourself parroting things your parents told you (no matter how much you swore you would never say those things).
Sometimes it is things that you have picked up elsewhere and are imitating.
Justification or determination.
Still, nothing seems to be working.
The natural consequence is your emotions become a super auto-responder.
Or, Ogre mom.
In the end I separated my children and sent them to their rooms, where I live a fairy tale that they sit with their actions, feel remorse and 10 minutes later are ready to apologize.
The happy endings seldom happen when raised by the automatic response.
I said earlier that it was lucky that I paused. That’s because, like I did, I registered my flip into the auto-reply – my “teacher voice”. I was able to change course and move on to more responsive parenting. (As this article outlines, responsive states are more effective than reactive states).
Instead, I used some calm, unifying parenting steps that I have called “PEAR Parenting”.
This is what it looks like with me.
I gently stood between them and said just one word in a low voice. “Stop.”
I did not ask. I didn’t scream. I just looked them in the eye and said it a couple of times.
Immediately the level of tension sank.
And we took a break. The chair became stable and my elder lowered the sock.
We sat for a minute and then they began to unravel.
A few words were thrown back and forth, and when my youngest child caught my attention, my oldest started crying.
“It happens all the time,” she said. “You always take his side.”
For a while she told how he used to break into her room and play around with her things.
PEAR helps me find a responsive parenting
Now I’ve heard the deeper problem.
Whatever they had argued about had fueled their feelings of jealousy and self-worth.
I heard. (Not always easy when your own inner voice is in competition, telling you at best to argue or reply, “Do you know HOW MUCH I’m doing for you?”).
I nodded while listening. It’s hard to share space. It hits the best of us.
When she dried her tears and her words slowed down, I told her that I saw how hard it was. Then she cried a little longer.
And then she came forward and we hugged a little. My youngest had lost interest at this point and was racing through his bedroom, making rushing noises and flying his Lego spaceship.
This is what PEAR stands for in my head:
- P: pause. First take a breath. Change the beat. Are you wondering, does what I do work? If not, what works better?
- E: empathy. Just listen. Nod. Practice hearing what your child is saying instead of answering.
- A: Confirm. Tell them you can understand why something feels difficult or unfair.
- R: Connect again. Stay open to your child’s connection attempts. They can hug you or come and cuddle. They can be joking or looking for laughter. Or, you can try asking if they want to do something next, or offer a special time that they can do anything.
And you might think that if I knew it – and actually named it – I would always remember to use PEAR!
Here is a spoiler. Not me!
That’s why it doesn’t always work
I love this idea. I do. I love the idea of a responsive parenting with this strategy as much as I love pancakes with syrup on a slow Saturday morning. It is delicious.
But rresponsive parenting is not my first choice. IIt takes practice to remember, pause, and follow.
And lately, life has stolen a lot of my time and attention. The world felt rocky, I am thousands of kilometers away from my family, we have work worries and I am stressed.
I actually thought it would get easier when the kids returned to school (at least a school version that includes a school bus and teachers with kids in one class).
We’ve waited so long to go back to the “time before” haven’t we?
And now that our kids are back to school and our workplaces are open, I thought life would feel more comfortable.
Life looks a bit more like it used to be, but let’s face it, it’s actually not the same anymore.
School doesn’t look the same. Game dates don’t look the same. Perhaps after you quit your job because work and lockdown with kids just weren’t workable, your life is radically different from before and you are wondering, “What now?”
There are still too many questions and too few answers, at least for me.
And that’s when the auto-responder version of me kicks in and struggles to remember PEAR
And Autoresponder Me really is a symbol of my greater reactive state.
Are you trapped in a reactive state?
I react although I prefer to react.
This reactive state, as I mentioned earlier, is usually impulsive. It rarely feels good. This is the moment when you hear yourself screaming before you even finish your train of thought. They furiously defend themselves against new rules or disturbances.
It’s the moment you shut your child off because, honestly, you just don’t have the mental space.
It’s understandable. But it’s not ideal.
Responsive parental responses, on the other hand, are good for you and your family. You feel less overwhelmed, less guilty. You are less influenced by what the world does, react flexibly, easily, with less resistance and frustration to what you have in a given situation.
So the big question is how we can better adjust ourselves to a responsible upbringing – and a life.
To get into this reactive state, you must first find out what the dream is.
A good question is: how do I really want to act as a parent?
And, of course, what needs to follow are the steps you need to take to get there.
Responsive Parenting asks: How would you like to appear?
Reacting takes a step back. A little time to think and reflect. It’s also the break in PEAR.
But here’s the thing. When you are exhausted or already burned out, it feels impossible to think about dreams and higher visions.
You may even sigh in frustration or feel your anger reading this now.
Because you, like so many parents in our ward, are told so much about how to live.
Burnout and exhaustion leave you feeling stuck and defensive. Unable to think, let alone act.
And that locks us in a reactive state and triggers our autoresponder education.
Which doesn’t feel good to anyone. And it becomes an impracticable, energy-draining, hope-sucking cycle.
At Hand in Hand we have tools for responsive parenting.
Oh yes we do.
There is listening time. Really simple but transformative tool to move these blocks around.
There is special time – not only for your child – but also for you. Giggles and laughter and time for yourself to do what you love are incredibly liberating. Doing this with someone who stands up for you will exude attention while you are doing the activity
And there is community. To be with parents who show you that you are not alone and give you the freedom to do the best you can with what you have. Who can remind you: you are good parents.
Because you are. We are!
Many of us don’t know what this fall will be like. And that could mean more stress, being overwhelmed, feeling guilty and frustrated.
But instead of getting into a reactive state, we invite you to use the tools as an anchor. They will help you reach a reactive state much more often.
It restores my ability to get out of panic mode and automatic response, and restores my energy so that I can return to responsive parenting.
The bright spot?
You can try out these and other ideas during our parents’ club.
Feel what a breath of fresh air it is to feel cared for. We have calls, workshops, Q&A and videos with hand in hand instructors every week and month. Use these tools with hundreds of other parents, adapt them to your family, and get support as you do so and if you stray off the track.
Feel all the good feelings
Feel your mood become more hopeful.
Feel the goodness of a community that cares.
Feel the lightness in your body while you play and laugh.
Here you can see all the supports and bonuses that you get in the Parent Club.