We all have buttons, don’t we? Family, in particular, know how to push our buttons because they made them! One of my buttons with my daughter is a common one for parents: any negative interactions around food. “I don’t like tacos!” (Even though she ate them eagerly a few weeks ago – and will probably devour them when they are served again and she’s in the mood.) Or, “I’m full… (even though she has eaten only a tablespoon of plain pasta) Can I have ice cream?”
Inside, there is a part of me that wants to scream and yell: “Are you kidding me? You know the rules! You are driving me INSANE!” And in fact, I have said similar things in my weaker moments. In fact, I vividly remember cleaning the white drips off the window over the kitchen sink where, in frustration, I had thrown her plastic cup of lovingly poured and stubbornly rejected milk. And I remember thinking: “Some ScreamFree parent you are, Erin. Who is the five year old here?” Meanwhile, my daughter walked away pouting, with her arms crossed.
Thankfully, I don’t often fly off the handle like that. What I’m trying to say here is what you already know: parenting challenges you down to the marrow. But here’s the deal. I am a ScreamFree parent. At least I’m practicing that, which is all anyone of us can do. Because I realize that in reacting to the push of a button, I had devolved from a parent to a needy child myself. I had, however unintentionally, sent the message to my child that I needed her to take care of me. And that is not what she needs from me.
Practicing ScreamFree Parenting isn’t just about not screaming. It’s really about awareness and control of our emotional reactions – how we respond when those buttons get pushed. Everyone has different reactions – probably different reactions to different buttons, too! Sometimes it’s putting up an emotional wall, or caving in to their demands, or making your own unrealistic demands. But these behaviors are all expressions of the same thing: our own emotional reactivity. And that is the worst enemy of parenting.
There are lots of parenting systems out there. Many of them are good and compatible with ScreamFree Parenting. They can provide helpful techniques for discipline. But they don’t deal with the underlying issue for parents: it doesn’t matter what discipline strategies we use if we are boiling or frantic or insecure inside. Think about it: is it really helpful to be counting “I…. 2…. 3….” in a menacing tone through gritted teeth? Nope; the message is the same: you better take care of me, or else! Your kid needs you to be able to count to 3 with calm, confidence and a lack of commitment to the outcome.
ScreamFree Parenting is for parents of any age children (who knows how to push buttons better than a teenager?) and is a principle-based approach. Here is the first principle: Parenting is not about the kids; it’s about parents. Parenting is a journey of growing ourselves up. Here’s another principle: If you are not in control of yourself, you cannot be in charge. Here’s another that is even harder to swallow: We are not responsible FOR our children. We are responsible TO our children.
So how did that milk incident end up? I realized that in addition to my general heightened response to anything food related, I was anxious about sending my child to school on an empty stomach. How could I do that? And we were in a rush – the bus was coming! That last ScreamFree principle helped me here. I had offered her breakfast and milk in plenty of time; that is all I am responsible for. I can’t make her eat it! I found my daughter pouting, but putting on her shoes. I calmly said, “Mommy threw the milk, and that didn’t help, did it? I’m sorry for losing my temper. I’m just worried about you going to school without eating any breakfast. But you have made your choice. Now it’s time for the bus. Grab your backpack and let’s go.” Would it have helped if I had found a way to manipulate her into eating? No. That would have been a battle fpr control – not effective parenting. Was she hungry later that morning? Yes. And that was probably a better message for her than anything. Just a really hard one for me to accept. But I did it. That was the ScreamFree me.
To learn more, get Hal Runkle’s book ScreamFree Parenting: A Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids By Keeping Your Cool. Or talk to me about a consultation or workshop. I’m a Certified ScreamFree Parenting Leader. Like every other parent, I’m not perfect. But I’m practicing!
Erin Sharp, LMFT, MDIV, MS
Occasional educational pieces, reflections on life, maybe a sermon or two, and sometimes some poetry by others that I stumble upon...
This website and blog express my own perspectives on mental health and relational issues. My intent is to bring awareness to such issues and experiences and share possible approaches to them. The information here does not necessarily reflect the views of the institutions with which I am associated, and is not a substitute for clinical counseling. All decisions about clinical care should be made in consultation with your counselor. To contact me for an appointment, call 618-243-7304.