Do you have those days when you are standing at the bottom of the stairs hollering at your child ‘How DARE you talk to me like that!’ Or when they are sobbing hysterically and you’re late for work again and you brusquely tell them to ‘CALM DOWN!’.
A few years ago that was me. Every.single.day. I could not understand why my kids made me so angry but also how incapable I was at dealing with their emotional moments in a compassionate way. I certainly would never speak to my friends or colleagues in the way I spoke to my kids. I mean, sure, my kids have behavioural problems, but some days it felt like I did too… Emotionally intelligent kids surely required an emotionally intelligent Mum – I didn’t feel like I had seen her in years.
I read books on respectful, intentional and therapeutic parenting; I went on courses; I tried 5am meditation, ‘me’ time and chocolate; and when all that failed, red wine. There was nothing tangible enough for me to learn that was making any kind of positive impact on mine OR my children’s behaviours – I didn’t know how to transform my family dynamics. My mental health was in tatters, I was on the verge of taking anti-depressants and it felt like my family was falling apart.
Sometimes, inspiration can come from failure. That inspiration came in the form of realising the power of my parenting language – those words, phrases, voice tones, actions and facial expressions that my children were absorbing from me. Suddenly, I had something tangible to work on.
Firstly, I discovered that we all have ‘core scripts’ from our childhood (Zach Gomm, 2019); those phrases and voice tones that are embedded in our day-to-day interactions with our kids, and that feel so natural for us to use because they were used on us. You know the ones; it’s where you say something and think ‘I sound just like my Mum!’. It may be ‘Sit up straight at the table!’ or ‘Look me in the eye when I am talking to you!’. They worked on me, so why did they not work with my fizzy kids, who have emotional, additional & special needs? Telling them to “CALM DOWN!” seemed to make them (and me) even more angry.
It turns out that fizzy kids’ brains are wired differently – many kids with special needs or who are highly sensitive or who have been through a traumatic event, live their life on the edge of survival mode, ready to go into fight, flight or freeze at any time. My language and behaviours were constantly triggering their survival mode. I started to realise that I needed to look beyond the behaviours. Out with the Cave-Woman, in with the Emotion Coach.
Secondly, I began to unearth phrases and different ways to talk to kids that I found buried deep within the pages of parenting books. Powerful phrases such as “You are safe. I am here for you. It’s ok to let your feelings out.” At first, I was sceptical, but as I started to try out some of the phrases, there was an immediate effect. Instead of the whole house kicking off because I had shouted at one of them for hitting, using phrases such as “Wow, you’re so angry! It’s ok to be angry!” took the fight out of them. I felt like a flipping hero. Sometimes when a meltdown was brewing, instead of getting cross at one child’s behaviours, I acted playfully when he threw a toy at me and said ‘oh, you want to play catch!’. The meltdown was averted and a ball game and laughing ensued.
My self-esteem quickly started to improve. I stopped going to bed ashamed at my behaviours or feeling like a complete parenting failure. I was back in control of my own emotions because the new language gave me a way of sounding mindful and gentle even when I wasn’t feeling that way underneath. The best part of it was that I began to feel attached and connected to my kids again and no longer like an ogre with an axe to grind.
Here are a few of my fave phrases for you to try out with your kids. Consider saying them out loud a few times to yourself before you use them:
For the angry child: ‘Wow you’re angry right now and it’s all about something your sister has done to you! It’s ok to feel angry, but it’s not ok to hit her. I would like to work with you to find a better way to tell her what is wrong.’
For the rude child: ‘Thank you. I find those words hard to hear, but they are better than fists or feet. You have expressed how you’re feeling.’
For the anxious child: ‘I wonder what it is that’s making you feel worried? I wonder if it’s…. or…..’
For ending screentime: “I am sorry you’re feeling so bad about not having more screen time. Sometimes your wellbeing and safety are more important than you liking me.”
Learning a new parenting language has helped me to re-learn to be the parent my kids need me to be. It has made me much more conscious about the way I communicate and interact with them. To finish, I’ll leave you with a quote from Karl Albrecht, who sums up my entire blog in just a few words:
“Change your language and you change your thoughts.”
About the author
Ali Fanshawe is a Mum-on-a-mission to two fizzy kids who have a mix of special, additional and emotional needs. Her nearly-20 years in the corporate world could never have prepared her for her current life as a full time Mum and Carer. No amount of strategic brainstorming, transformation projects or M&A deals equipped her with the skills she needed to act as Mum, carer, advocate, teacher, therapist, administrative assistant and legal counsel. But what it did provide her with was logic, rational thought and a flare for coaching and networking. She set up FizzyKids to help other parents transform their family dynamics and re-learn to be the parents their fizzy kids need them to be through learning a new parenting language and being part of a supportive community.
For more information you can contact Ali at www.fizzykids.co.uk