Dealing with Kids Moods and States of Mind
The Scene: You come home from work. You’re tired, crabby, snappy- you see once again that your daughter has dropped her books, jacket, and everything else right inside the front door. You think to yourself, “This girl has learned nothing! Why can’t I teach her responsibility!” You march down to her room and bark, “How many times do I have to tell you to get this crap out of here!” Your daughter yaps back with another excuse….
Moods Affect Action
Being effective or successful as a parent has more to do with a parent’s state of mind and moods than about any parenting technique you might learn.
When parents are upset or in low moods, they tend to forget any potential parenting techniques they may have learned along the way. Kids react more to our feelings.
The times that we are in good moods and our spirits are high, the feeling and communication naturally overrides the need for any techniques.
As parents, we need to understand states of mind and the effects they have on our parenting at any given time. Children respond better when we deal with them from a responsive, secure state of mind.
At any given moment, every human being is in one of two states of mind: a secure, responsive state, or an insecure and reactive state. And there also seems to be a line that, once crossed, puts us in one state or the other.
In the insecure, reactive state we tend to act out of fear and insecurity. We seem to have a lot of knee jerk reactions, and we feel threatened.
In the secure, responsive state, we tend to act out of security and a wisdom that tells us what is best. We are able to keep our bearings.
Moods are part of the human experience. Each mood is a different level of consciousness through which we see our children and what they are up to. We react according to what we see at each of these levels. We react to our children according to the mood we’re in at the time, because it’s what we see at the time.
When we are down, we see those around us in a negative way; we overreact.
Different Moods, Different People
We are completely different people when we are in low, reactive moods than we are when we are in high, responsive moods. It’s literally like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
When we react out of one state as opposed to the other, what we say and do is completely different and the results are completely different.
The state of mind we are in when interacting with our children at any given time will determine how effectively we will deal with them.
It’s always helpful to be aware of which state of mind we are in at any given time. We can tell which state we’re in by our feelings. Notice how you feel when you’re about to confront or talk to your kids. This provides the first signal on how to proceed.
In negative, reactive states, even the smallest problems seem large. It’s difficult to see solutions. In the secure, responsive state, problems don’t look so overwhelming. We see the way out. Things look hopeful. Problems seem more manageable. Some of the problems that seemed large in a negative, reactive state, don’t even look like problems from a more positive state.
Our kids also jump back and forth between these states- sometimes many times a day.
The best time to deal with our kids, especially while trying to help them learn something, is when we are both in positive, open, responsive states.
In negative, reactive moods we simply don’t come across well. Our kids will react by getting a little frightened or insecure and they will resist what we say. In a low state they are automatically closed off to whatever anyone tries to tell them. Their walls go up to protect themselves.
Mood Thinking and Action
So what do we do when we’re in a low state and must get something across to our kids?
The best thing to do in an insecure, reactive state or low mood is nothing. Or as little as we can possibly get away with.
Very few situations are so urgent that they must be dealt with at that moment, although the lower the mood, the more urgent it looks.
Needless to say, if a child is in danger or an emergency arises, it doesn’t matter what kind of mood we’re in. The danger at the moment must always be dealt with.
When neither danger nor emergency are present, if we are in a low state and need to teach something about their behavior, it really helps to stop, bite our tongues, step back for a while, and regain perspective- for as long as it takes- until we feel a healthier state of mind and wisdom kicks in. Then we can deal with it.
Also, if our kids are in low moods, they first need to calm down enough to hear what we have to say, so they may need to be separated from us or the situation for awhile until they regain their bearings. When spirits have risen on both sides, we then get together and talk from a more productive perspective.
We are simply wasting our time and energy trying to deal with our children when either of us is in a low state. We also do more damage to our relationship with them.
Low moods = low quality thoughts.
Sometimes we may have to say to a child, “I’m too upset to deal with this right now. We will talk later.” Sometimes we may have to say, “It looks like you need to calm down some before we talk about this, so we’ll talk about it later.”
The problem is that in low moods we feel compelled to say something or take action. However, if we recognize how destructive this could be, that recognition alone may be enough to hold our tongues or fists. The adjustment is to back off and wait.
What do we do when we can’t seem to find that responsive state of mind, or find that loving, caring, warm feeling for our children in the moment?
- The first thing we need to recognize is when we’re in an insecure, reactive state or low mood. It’s not difficult once we begin to pay attention to how we are feeling. Remember, what we are feeling is the climate we are creating at the moment.
- a. If our feelings tell us we’re in a secure, responsive state, it serves as a signal to us- a green light– that’s it’s OK to go ahead and act, because at that time we can pretty much trust whatever naturally comes up to deal with a situation.
b. If our feelings tell us we’re in a low, reactive state, it serves as a red light– to stop and wait. In this state it’s best not to try to teach our children anything or discipline them at that moment. It’s best to clear our heads, get ourselves back on track and allow wisdom to speak.
c. If we’re unsure of our feelings, it serves as a yellow light. Slow down and proceed with caution.
It never helps to create more insecurity. If we’re upset and our child does something that makes us more upset, any action we take at that time will make the child feel more insecure. Backing off and clearing our heads gets us back on track.
Does this mean ignoring or neglecting the child? Absolutely not.
Even at those times we must still keep alert enough to the child to prevent any disasters. All this means is, within the parameters of safety, we do as little as possible with the situation, but for our own well-being in the moment, we do whatever it takes to improve our own state of mind by removing ourselves temporarily from the situation.
Taking Responsibility for What Happens in Our Moods
The only time you will fall out of wonderful feelings for each other is when you’re in low moods. We all have moments of low moods, but now you know enough to ride them out and not take personally what anyone said when in them.
We know that what we see in our low mood thinking is not “real”- unless we make it be. What is real is the inner health and well-being and common sense and wisdom that gets brought through love and understanding.
Our relationship with our children is like a savings account. When we feel closer we put in deposits. When we feel more distant we make withdrawls. In a secure, responsive state we naturally make deposits. In insecure, reactive states we make withdrawals.
To take responsibility for our own mood thinking and how it affects our subsequent actions is one of the most productive, practical things we can do as parents.