How often have you noticed your child copying your action, words, or thoughts? Maybe you were driving and heard your child in the back seat repeating, “Come on, people! The light is green! Go, go, go!” Or when you were mowing the lawn and your child got his toy lawnmower and started doing it alongside you. Kids pick up on small everyday things we do as parents and often imitate them. This is normal and is, in fact, good! Children learn through modeling. While it can sometimes cause problems, like picking up a bad word from another child at school, it can also be used to help foster a connection with your child while improving parenting.
As parents, our role for our children goes far beyond basic shelter, food, and water. Our goal is to help develop our children into independent, caring, functioning adults, while still maintaining a positive relationship with that child. In the same way your child copies the words you say, they will also copy the way you care for yourself and respond to your own disappointments. Because we are models for our children, when we fail, make a mistake, or overreact, these are learning opportunities for our kids to see how we respond. This helps them learn how to respond to their own failures.
I often tell parents that it isn’t initially what they do but rather what they do after. No parent is perfect and we all inevitably mess up or hurt our child’s feelings. However, the most important piece of this is taking that mistake and using it as an opportunity to show your child the proper way to respond. This could include accepting consequences of your choice. Ask for forgiveness from the person you hurt to right your wrong. You are free to make mistakes, knowing they actually help your child learn how to respond to their own mistakes. This is important because as a parent you cannot gift patience and forgiveness to your child if you are not first giving it to yourself. Willingness to understand your own failures and difficulties allows you to better understand your child’s failures and difficulties, creating a greater understanding and connection. Your child will see it is okay to fail and learn how to better respond to it.
So how is this done? Let’s consider the difference between thermometers and thermostats. Thermometers measure the temperature of the room and match it. Thermostats measure the temperature of the room and start blowing cooler or hotter air to bring the room back to a comfortable level. So if a child were upset and yelling, a parent acting as a thermometer would mirror that energy and yell back at them. However, a parent acting as a thermostat would take a moment for a few deep breaths to calm themselves, and then calmly approaching their child to see how they could help to soothe and calm their child’s emotions. It can be difficult to put this into practice, so here are some practical ways you can do so:
This looks like giving yourself grace when you make a mistake, lowering the high expectations placed on yourself, and being more present.
Take time to learn about yourself, the things that bring you joy, the things that “set you off”, your personality traits, and take time to journal your thoughts and feelings, etc.
Take time for self-care
Being a thermostat for your kids can be exhausting and stressful! Take time for yourself. Don’t get caught up with “mom-guilt” or dad guilt.” It’s ok to have “me time” too. Try a warm bubble bath, an extra 10 minutes in the morning for quiet time with coffee, reading before bed, creating art, exercising, or schedule lunch with a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
Share with your children
Share with your child things that help you! If taking 5 deep breaths helps, teach them how to do that when they feel upset. If spending time with friends brings you joy when you are feeling lonely, set up a play date, or spend one-on-one time with them!
Being a thermostat doesn’t come naturally, but with practice and a little grace, it can make a world of difference to your relationship with your child and their own emotional well-being.