Monday, February 11, 2008

Five Keys to Mindful Behavior (and not losing your temper)

We don't exist in a vacuum. If we did, it would be easy to be the person we want to be. It'd be easy to manage time, set goals, reach out, and expand ourselves. Being more would be accomplishable in the next five minutes. But our time and energy is constantly hijacked, borrowed, robbed, or given away. Not always for the worse, true, but these things add up. Eventually the pressure is a bit much and we lose sight of how we want to see ourselves.

What I'm talking about is patience, I suppose, and temper. It's too often that I find myself frustrated and angry at my circumstances. I want to get X done, but Y,Z, and A are still sitting in the back of my mind, demanding attention. And I have an important meeting and there's homework due and I haven't cleaned the kitchen in weeks. The frustration of all these little factors can tie itself up in knots in my mind. And the pressure builds. And I finally snap at my wife, chastise my kid, or yell at the puppy. And the picture that I've painted of myself at that moment, that ugly representation of all the space being rented in my mind, is forever burned into my children. It momentarily tarnishes who I am to my wife, and if it's not cleaned off, it can rust.

Sure, conflict can be healthy. I don't think it's a good idea to avoid talking about issues of contention. Things need to be aired out between you and your partner, if you expect this partnership to work at all. And yes, you need to raise your voice once in a while when dealing with your kids, be stern, set your foot down. But these things should be done with intention. There is a world of difference between a calculated move, a planned intonation, and a knee-jerk reaction.

Knee-jerk reactions set you off balance. They disturb harmony. They loosen ties.

We can't be perfect all the time. But if we can maintain control of ourselves, we stand a much better chance of setting the example we hope to set for our families. Everything we do is a reflection of who we are. Losing your temper, getting angry, and being petty can really distort that image.

Kids are like sponges, if you haven't noticed. They soak everything up. The other day, my three year-old broke a crayon at a restaurant. With perfect and cold pronunciation, she said, "God damn it," and went about coloring with half of the blue crayon. My wife and I looked at each other. She didn't get it from TV. We got rid of that thing. She got it from us. And of course we couldn't be mad, but we did explain that it wasn't the polite thing to say, that we were sorry we gave her use of those words.

Sometimes our kids can be our compasses for how we act. If we want our kids to exhibit proper behavior, we have to model it. When there is a lot of traffic, I can hear her strapped into the seat behind me say, as if to herself, "C'mon, dude. Move it." I didn't realize that I said that to stopped cars until she pointed it out. If I were apt to lose my temper in the car rather than get annoyed, she would show me what I look like with road rage.

I don't mean to say that we should edit ourselves or hide who we are from our kids. Instead, I think we should mindfully express who we are based on our lofty self-conceptions. A lot of times, those self-conceptions are hard to live up to. For example, I know enough about healthy eating and exercise to be in any shape that I want to be. But through a perverse loss of control related to emotional and financial stress, I don't show this knowledge. Instead, I keep on compounding these stresses with irresponsible behaviors related to eating and spending.

Our temper acts the same way. Too often we become absorbed in ourselves and we lose sight of our goals. When we lose sight of our goals, we lose sight of ourselves. And that creates a vision of us that everyone around us sees.

How many times have you caught yourself losing your temper, getting into arguments, snapping at your family, all because you are overwhelmed? How can you fight this?

1. Make decisions based on the example you want to set
This is easier said than done. But this goes along with the idea of putting your family first. Don't reach for gratification, but instead see the decisions that you make in light of the long-term ramifications and patterns that your children will notice. Whenever possible, step away from negative patterns, especially when it comes to health, consumerism, and habits.

2. Empathize
When your kids are nagging you, before you get frustrated with them and blow your top, you really have to step back and ask yourself a few questions. What is it that they want? Why? Do you remember a time when you nagged your parents for something like that? What would have made you understand why the answer is "no?" This goes for kids being scared of the dark, not wanting to go to sleep, etc.

3. Don't presume the worst
It's easy for arguments between you and your spouse to get started through communication problems. If you feel like you've been insulted, made fun of, or otherwise criticized, don't snap back. Instead, take a step back and try and find out why this was said or if you may have even taken the comment the wrong way. Many, many problems can be avoided by taking the proper time before offering a retort.

4. Remember the importance of fun
Many times when my kids are being too loud, yelling in the house, making repeditive and disrupting noises, or otherwise polluting the air with their unlimited volume, I have the urge to yell. It's a natural response, right? But you have to take heart of the times when your kids are having fun. If it's not an appropriate fun to have in the house, by all means, change things around. But don't be the ogre that stops all the fun with a bad temper and ruins a perfectly good day. Remember what it was like when you were a kid and try and calm the tempest with understanding.

5. Change your mind
If you've had a bad day, or are too stressed or tired to respond rationally to family pressures, talk this out. Explain where you're coming from, why you have a bad headache, why you need a moment to yourself. Take that moment and earnestly try to console yourself. Earnestly try and change your mind about how your day is going to be. If you decide that you can turn things around and have a good day, you can. If you decide that you can't, then you can't. It's a simple as that. Sit there for as long as it takes to decide that you can.

Resist the knee-jerk reaction. Orchestrate your day without the use of hostility. Remember to show your kids who you want to be, and it will be much easier to become that person.


Huckdoll said...

Your posts are always so informational and clever. You could really write a book. I know I'm printing this out!

Thank you,

~ Huckdoll

Sol Smith said...

Thanks, Huckdoll. That's a great compliment. I have a couple of fiction books that I'm trying to sell. I'd love to write a parenting book, but we'll see how far I get with this blog. I don't pretend to be an authority on parenting, but I do have a passion for it, and I think that's all it takes to say positive things.

Stacey said...

Great post, beautiful writing!

"Knee-jerk reactions set you off balance. They disturb harmony. They loosen ties."
--If only my soon-to-be-ex husband had know this...