By Quek Li Koon, Manager of Epworth Foster Care
According to cognitive theory, the way we think about a situation determines our emotional response. The way we interpret or give meaning to an event affects how calm or stress we feel about it.
When we tell ourselves, “He is always lying and I cannot trust him anymore,” we have a negative or unhelpful thought. This will make us feel angry, causing us to shout or say unpleasant words to the child.
Parenting has many challenges. As parents (caregivers), it is unavoidable to have occasional negative thoughts that will affect the way we respond to children. Sometimes, we may feel helpless and demoralised, and say to ourselves, “She does not show any respect to me. I am such a useless mother.” When we think this way, we feel defeated. We become irritated and unassertive. We are unable to follow through with the appropriate response to a child’s action, whether it is to reward when our child behaves well; or, to withdraw a privilege when our child misbehaves.
Thinking negatively or having unhelpful thoughts will affect the way we communicate and care for our children. In short, negative thoughts towards situations will lead to negative responses on our part as parents.
We may end up verbally putting our child down, saying mean words that hurt our child’s feelings; punishing our child physically; or, thinking that our child will never change.
The first step to getting a grip on our emotions is to recognise our negative thoughts. Some examples of negative thoughts are:
Such a label implies that the problem and the child will not change.
“She should know how I want her to behave.”
Such thoughts causes us to feel down, cheated or angry when reality falls short of our expectations.
“He did not reply to my text because he does not care about how I feel!”
This belief may not be true and it will only make us feel down and respond negatively when our child comes back home.
“I cannot tolerate his tantrums anymore.”
This will make us feel hopeless and want to give up more easily.
“He is always chatting with his friends or on the Internet and not studying.”
This is an example of an exaggerated statement that may not be true.
Negative thoughts may lead us to become less patient with ourselves and our children. Often, they may also lead us to make hurtful remarks or actions that distance relationships.
We can substitute our negative thoughts with positive and helpful thoughts by challenging our inaccurate and unhelpful thoughts. Below are some examples of how we can replace negative thoughts with positive ones:
“She is quite self-absorbed at times; but there are times when she is quite thoughtful.”
“She may not know exactly what to do in this situation. She will need a little coaching here.”
“He may be busy and has not checked his messages.”
“This is hard, but I have coped with this before. I can also contact his counsellor regarding this problem.”
“Since he has been on the Internet for the past half hour, let me remind him to focus on his studies.”
Being Mindful of Our Thoughts
As parents or caregivers, we face many trying situations. In order to keep our emotions in check, it helps to be mindful of the situations that stress us up. Be prepared to intercept our unhelpful thoughts and challenge them. By replacing them with positive thoughts and coping statements, we will have a better grip on our emotions and behaviours.