Sometimes my children frustrate me and even make me angry (I don’t think I’m alone in this). But if I’m following Magda Gerber’s principles, I can feel frustration and yet seem amazingly patient from the outside. I know this, because I’ve often had people tell me they’re amazed with my patience, when I was truly feeling fed-up on the inside. But people aren’t responding to what I’m feeling, they’re responding to what I’m doing.
These techniques help me appear calm and they keep the situation from growing into something that I’ll have to apologize to my children for later. So, for those who have said to me, “I don’t know how you do it.” Here is how I do it – and here’s how you can too. No matter how you’re feeling inside.
Sportscasting: This is when you reflect back to the child exactly what you see is going on. Don’t comment on what’s happening or feel the need to “fix” it. Just let them know that you are there and you see what is happening. I often use this when two or more children are interested in the same play object, but it can be used in many situations. I will say, “Anne has the car and Joe is reaching for the car. Joe wants to hold the car. Anne is holding tight to the car. She doesn’t want Joe to grab it.” I am not taking sides and I am not fixing the situation. The children know I am there to keep everyone safe but they do not look to me to resolve the conflict.
Waiting: This is harder than it sounds, but just waiting can often help a frustrating situation resolve on it’s own. Children are very resourceful and capable of dealing with challenges in their own ways if given enough time. Whether it is the young baby who is having trouble rolling over or the preteen who can’t seem to find any shoes that fit right at the shoe store, sometimes the answer is “just wait.” I’m there, and I’m available if the situation truly becomes too much for them, but if possible, I wait.
Acknowledge and accept their emotions: It has taken me years to do this, and I still sometimes fail, but I try hard never to dismiss a child’s emotions, no matter how unwarranted or out of proportion they may seem to me. The last thing I would want if I were angry or sad or hurt would be for someone to tell me I was wrong to feel that way. Feelings aren’t right or wrong; they are simply what you feel at that moment. I don’t try to make them feel better, by distracting them or bribing with treats. I acknowledge their feelings. I try not to project -- I usually don’t say, “you’re sad” because what if they aren’t? What if they are crying because they are so angry? I try to simply say, “You’re crying. Would you like to talk or would you like a hug?”
Knowing my limit before I reach it: Like everyone I have things that just drive me nuts. No one learns those triggers faster than your own children. It is important that you learn and accept those triggers, too. If you just don’t have it in you to listen to “Shake it Off” blasting through the house 45 times in a row, then you need to know that about yourself and set the limit before you get to that point where you explode. When I feel like screaming, “All right that’s enough!” I know that it was really enough about ten minutes ago and I should have stopped it then. I own up to my limitations and usually sound like a cliché, it’s not you, it’s me. I just tell the truth. “I know you love that song, but I need a break.”
I think I am a fairly patient person, but I am not immune to the frustrations of caring for and raising children. For me it’s not so important that I somehow don’t feel those frustrations, but rather what happens when I do feel them. I hope these skills help.