Marilyn Paul, PhD

Temper, Temper

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Each of us has something that triggers frustration and sometimes anger. Our anger can lead us to misdirect energy down an emotional sinkhole. This is not a post about emotional suppression, though; it’s more about becoming more aware of how we use our energy. My challenge right now is my son Jonathan. But think about your own frustration challenge as you read this.

I have been blessed with a child with a highly willful temperament. He wants to do things his own way, in his own time. Well, don’t we all?

I find myself frustrated when he doesn’t want to do what I want him to do, like brush his teeth or clear his plate. The parenting books suggest logical consequences. What? Like letting cavities take over?! Think of the dental bills!! Or, maybe he should pay the dental bills…

But, the key here is to take my attention of off of him and focus on the question, “Why do I get mad about this?” I have a young child, who needs guidance and connection, when I am seething in frustration I can’t offer either guidance or connection.”

And, not only “Why do I get mad,” but, also, “What can I do to stay in a friendly and resourceful mood?” Now I have shifted from what to do about him and his disobedience to me and my mood management. This is powerful and helpful. I can’t control him, but maybe I can relate to my own temper differently.

Staying in a friendlier mood keeps my body quieter. I don’t pump as much adrenaline into my system, and I can stay focused on what really matters to me, instead of ranting about what is bothering me.

What have I learned so far about how to cultivate a more positive response to my frustration and stay friendlier?

1. Remind myself of my gratitude for him. I’m crazy about this kid.

2. Remind myself that learning to stay friendlier is a good next step for me in many ways. I need to be in a friendlier mood with my self and my husband as well.

3. Give him the benefit of the doubt. As I learned more about this willful type of child, I find out that temperament is God given – or, a more secular way of putting it, he was born this way. His temperament is a gift, it comes with persistence, self-reliance, insatiable curiosity and a fantastic sense of humor.

4. Don’t blow things out of proportion – he has not had a cavity in his first nine years, so – so far so good.

5. Following that, focus even harder on what is going right than what is going wrong. Actively nourish myself with observations of what is great about him rather than reacting so strongly to his perceived deficits.

6. It’s worth asking why I am flaring up. Right now, I perceive a threat to my sense of self-worth (I’m a failing parent with an uppity kid.) But I can reframe that by saying he has a strong temperament, and I can learn how to foster his strengths and temper his deficits.

7. Note the cost to myself. It’s hard to be creative, resourceful and energetic when I am mucking around in my flailing anger.

As I get friendlier, to myself and him, I find myself feeling more energized, resourceful and happier. As I am happier I can get back to what I really want to be doing: creating a great home environment for my family and doing great work.

And, yes, I can actually get back to work.

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