The Power of Perception in Parenting

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Photo by Dina Brookmyer

Why are they doing this to me?


They are taking away my peace!


These kids are infuriating…

The belief that things outside of me can make me feel a certain way can be damaging and lead to countless parenting struggles.


I am sure many of us have found ourselves repeating these types of statements recently. But how we look at our situation and children’s behavior influences how we respond, either exacerbating the situation or turning it on its head.


If, as a parent, I believe that my child is ‘making me angry’ or ‘stressing me out,’ chances are that I will react negatively toward my child. The belief that things outside of me can make me feel a certain way can be damaging and lead to countless parenting struggles.


How I perceive a situation is going to dictate how I respond. If I see my child’s behavior as a call for help, then I will be able to respond in a way that is helpful. If my child says, “I hate you!!” and I perceive this solely as him being ‘out to get me,’ then I have missed the opportunity to discover the feelings beneath his words. I have missed the opportunity to recognize what his behavior is trying to communicate to me.


His behavior may be his way of saying, “I am mad at you, and I don’t know what to do with this big, overwhelming feeling.” My ability to shift the focus off of his actual behavior and instead think to myself, ‘What’s really going on here?’ is a huge step toward reducing and, hopefully, eliminating power struggles. Saying to my child, “You seem really mad,” will then open the door to teaching him alternative ways of coping with anger.


We are not excusing negative behaviors here. What we are doing is recognizing that these behaviors may be a call for help. We have a golden opportunity to teach our child positive skills that he will need for the rest of his life. Shifting our perception also keeps us from crossing over to the ‘dark side’ where we parent only with our emotions. We separate ourselves from our child’s behavior. My child is experiencing pain…fear…anger. If we are able to remain rational and calm, we are able to parent positively. Without blame and negativity.


There will be times when we need to shift our perception of ourselves before we can access the rational part of our brains. We may need to do away with the shame and doubt which often come in the form of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘coulds.’ Shaming statements can look like: “I should/shouldn’t be feeling this way” or “I could have done A, B, C…” No. Lead with self-compassion: “I am feeling stressed.” See? No judgment and shaming there!

We have a golden opportunity to teach our child positive skills that he will need for the rest of his life.

You would be amazed what three deep belly breaths can do to disengage your automatic stress response and shift your perception, giving you the ability to then send yourself helpful messages, such as, “You can do this.”


It’s also important to recognize how our emotional state affects our children. If I am calm and composed, my child will be able to access her inner composure. If I am stressed and yelling, I will not be able to help my child regulate herself.


If I approach my fighting children and consciously change my perception from “They are taking away my peace!” to “Wow, they sure are bored,” I will feel internally motivated to help my children (and steer them toward a craft or game), rather than feeling victimized by their bickering.


You’ve got this!

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