There is a great anecdotal story that circulated during the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. She made a lot of public appearances that year and a lot of “regular folk” got their chance to interact with her. One woman stood in line to meet the queen for a long time. She finally got her chance and just as she was presented to the queen the phone in her purse began to ring. What to do? Act like she can’t hear it? Fumble in her purse and turn it off? Answer it? What is the royal etiquette for this situation? The queen herself solved the problem by saying, “you should answer that dear, it could be someone important.”
While we might debate whether the once in a lifetime experience of meeting the queen is more important that whoever might be on the phone, what this story reminds me of is our daily choice of what we pay attention to. We cannot multitask very well. The most important thing is the thing we are thinking of right now. Whatever that woman decided to do there, that was the most important thing. If she took the call, she would have been focused on the call. If she ignored the call, she is deciding the queen is the most important thing right now.
In parenting we chose to either react to the behavior or look at what is causing the behavior. Do you react to the deed or respond to the need? Which one do you pay attention to, which one is important? In connected parenting, the need behind the behavior should be the most important thing that we focus our attention on. You’ve done this before. When your child did something risky that may have resulted in an injury, your first impulse is to rush in and ask, “are you hurt? Are you ok?” It’s not the time to lecture. Your child’s safety is the most important thing right now.
Outside of an emergency, it is usually a bit harder for a parent to prioritize the need over the behavior. But it is still just as important in a non emergency to make sure your child is ok. To do this we have to be able to parent from a calm regulated place so we have the ability to pay attention to the most important thing. Take a slow deep breath. Drop your shoulders to relax your muscles. Doing these physical things help your body to relax. Here’s a fun fact- you cannot be anxious in a relaxed body! Try it.
Once you feel you are regulated, look at your child, remind yourself that you love him and his behavior is a communication of some deeper issue. Is your child scared, hungry or tired? Are they trying to meet their needs for freedom, fun or power? Does he need someone safe to address those needs more than he needs a lecture about how he just messed up? Right now, decide which is more important, the phone call or the queen? Chose the need, and focus all of your attention on it, and later you can go back and address the behaviors.