This space is often populated with anecdotes, insights, and valuable information from the Muskoka Family Focus Parent Education team. As a member of that team, I’ve learned a lot about parenting and education from my colleagues, some of whom have already contributed to this blog.
As you can imagine, my teammates bring diverse experience and knowledge to the task of supporting parents and caregivers. I bring unique qualities to the team, as well. For one, I’m the only Dad on the Parent Education Team.
I have two daughters, ages three and six. And I have had the good fortune of being a stay-at-home/work-from-home dad for over 3 years. My role on this team mirrors my experience as a dad; I haven’t been doing either for very long, but I have a deep commitment to promoting rich and supportive relationships between parent and child.
Bounce Back & Thrive!
Bounce Back & Thrive! (BBT) is a program designed to build resiliency skills in children and anyone in a parenting role. The first session is wrapping up now, but there will be second session in the fall.
During our seminars, I often find that I’m learning and re-learning many of the concepts in BBT along with the attending parents and caregivers. My hope is that some of the participants find my place in the spectrum of parenting journeys relatable.
Recently, my children presented me with a situation that challenged my composure as a parent and triggered reflection as a Parent Educator. I’ll let you in on how I responded and highlight some concepts from BBT that related to our experience.
So Much Mud!
Last year, on a particularly sunny March afternoon my daughters, Teal and Echo were wearing a combination of their snow and rain gear, enjoying their contribution to the maple syrup harvesting chores. This usually amounts to drinking sap directly out of spiles, but during their breaks they were running around enjoying the outdoors.
They must have found a significantly deep mud puddle because when I looked up, the eldest was emerging and youngest was still facedown, beached in the puddle. When my partner and I were both able to lay eyes on them, we found two jackets, two sets of snow pants, and four gloves covered in mud. And I mean covered. Caked even. They would never been clean again.
At our Bounce Back & Thrive seminars there are tools and concepts we work on to help parents with situations just like this -when challenging behaviours take place, and unwanted outcomes rule the day.
These situations sometimes lead to reactions, and conflicts that widen the gap between us and our little-loved-ones. Let’s go through a few ideas that have helped me avoid those regretful reactions….sometimes.
Stop, Breathe, Rethink
Easier said than done! One of my goals as a parent, is to increase my ability to choose a mindful response rather than landing at an emotional reaction. If I can find the power to pause before reacting, breathe to relax myself, then consider, even for a moment, how I WANT to respond, I find that it’s often enough to avoid reacting in a way that I wouldn’t be proud of.
When a challenging circumstance arises, our subconscious thinking can remain in control, and often lead to unwanted emotional reactions.
Let’s say for instance some quality and absolutely vital outdoor apparel is destroyed at the hands of a mud puddle. In that scenario, disappointment, and dissatisfaction would be natural, no? My thinking might be something like:
“Why did you just do that?”
“What were you thinking?”
“Are you kidding me?”
I might even come down with a case of the “Shoulds”. I might be thinking:
“I should have been watching more closely.”
“Expensive stuff should be cared for, not destroyed.”
“We should get some new stuff, this stuff is garbage.”
These automatic thoughts come together to cause my feelings. And feelings will almost always determine reactions. Needless to say, I would have been on my way to expressing my disappointment.
However, if I’m able to catch some of those thoughts, observe where my thinking is headed, and acknowledge what is happening for me. I have a chance, however slim, to choose alternative thoughts. Maybe something like:
“Wow, my kids really love mud!”
“They made a big mess, but it looks like they had a lot of fun!”
From there, I’m more likely to feel empathetic, and positive.
Promoting Positivity and Using Empathy
If I’m able to catch my subconscious, negative thinking, and redirect my thoughts and subsequent feelings into something more positive, I’ve not only chosen a parenting response that maintains the trust and connection between my children and me. I’ve also modelled choosing positivity in the face of challenging circumstances for them, which is a key resiliency skill.
After all, it’s just a little mud!
It can be difficult to remain positive when mud puddles, or spilled grape juice have real life consequences, there is no doubt.
On this day I was indeed able to catch myself and understand the situation from my children’s perspective. I was able to stop and take a deep breath. And in that time, I somehow connected with the joy they found, and I was left giggling rather than questioning or being upset with them.
I’d like to think I left something sacred and unspoken between them and I, unharmed. That seems worthwhile to me.
Though their bright purple and pink gear is no longer bright at all, they still wear most of it to this day.
After all, it’s just a little mud.