If there’s one keyword that resonated with me last year and will take me through all of 2014 it’s this :
I believe that this is the biggest hurdle to getting on top of your relationships, both at work and at home.
So what is emotional reactivity? It’s simply flipping out, reacting to something, rather than processing the information and coming back with something well thought out. It’s us simply going with the flow and getting emotional about it.
There’s one book that has had the most impact on me in years. It’s Screamfree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool by Hal Edward Runkel. It’s in reading this book and being exposed to the carefully laid out ideas by Runkel that I learnt to give a name to my behaviour thus far. It’s my aim to share with you, key ideas and highlights from this book that are well worth your investment, both financially and otherwise.
While this is a book about parenting, I couldn’t help but notice how so much of what is written here is just as applicable in our relationships with others as well, at home or at work. With our parents and with our extended family. With our bosses and those whom we lead. So, when you read the notes below, replace ‘ kids’ with whomever else you have a difficult or challenging relationship with and give this a try. You won’t regret it.
1. Parenting is about parents, not the kids.
Many times, we go through our lives thinking we got things all figured out and then, things happen that really cause us to question our beliefs that we’ve long held. This is one of those. For many people, parenting is about the kids when in reality, it’s really about us, isn’t it?
2. We need to focus on ourselves , and not on others, to make things work and to achieve balance.
When I first read this, it made so much sense. How often have you gone about a challenge you’ve faced, where you’re effectively trying to control things that you really can’t? And the more you try to stamp down on things, the more the strings loosen and fear creeps in, slowly and steadily. How freeing to finally come to the realisation that the focus really needs to be on us. How liberating to realise that the one true thing we can control is not the other person or the situation but simply ourselves. We’ve heard this in all its variations but it really hit the nail on the head for me here.
3. We need to sort ourselves out before we can sort others out.
Does the picture of the oxygen mask dropping from the plane’s overhead cabin come to mind? Strange as it sounded when I first heard it, we do need to sort outselves out before we can sort others out. But the problem with this is theoretically, so much of what is here makes sense but so little of it is what we practise. Simply because we don’t know better. Because we are lazy. Because to do otherwise is hard, very hard and requires constant, consistent effort on our part until we get it right and it becomes part of who we are instead of who we are striving to be.
4. We should focus on the things we can control, not those we can’t. And we can’t control our kids.
Who needs to be told something as obvious as this? And yet, you and I are both guilty of frequent, if not daily, attempts at trying to control our kids. I am not talking about trying to discipline them or the things we need to do with our kids as we grow them. I am talking just about control. The control we need to have so we feel we are in charge and that things are going the way we want them to.
5. We need to be the centre of calm so that they can thrash around. We can’t ask our kids to be calm. Our kids want us to be calm and rational.
It took me having two kids to finally realise, one fine day, that parenting was not just about bringing children into the world. It was going to be, and still is, the biggest thing that challenges me and grows me, as an adult and as a parent.
We need to take charge. We need to be calm. We need to see the bigger picture. And there are no brownie points, no salutes or star stickers when we get it right. We just need to get it done so we can move to the next level.
6. The kids pay more attention to what we do than what we say.
The other day, I read something interesting about children. About how you need to pay attention to the little things they tell you now as kids. We shouldn’t just think, “Oh, I’ll get to it later because this is not important, its not a big thing”.
We worry that when they grow up, they will not be as close and tell us their secrets. But if you are listening to the small secrets today, you’ll be there to hear the big secrets later because…. the small secrets today are actually the big secrets.
The problem with growing little people is that they both see and hear you and you sometimes tend to forget that. So, while it’s important you consider what you say, you have to pay equal, if not more, attention, to what you do as well.
7. You may see things that they don’t and while you try to make them see what you see, perhaps the lesson in that is that everyone may not appreciate the lesson, agree with it or want it handed to them ready-made and distilled.
That’s the problem with life in general, right? Not everyone sees, hears or experiences things the way you do or have. It makes it harder to get others to see things from your perspective. And sometimes, even when it makes sense, when you can see what is so obvious, you need to just step away and let go. You cannot ever make someone see it if they simply can’t or if they won’t.
8. Our biggest struggle as parents is with our own emotional reactivity.
This is the biggest clincher for me – I know that when I ace this one, I would have moved one level up and it would be a significant step in maturity.
9. We have a responsibility to our children, not for them.
There’s a subtle difference here with huge consequences.
10. There’s a way for you to exert influence without having to take responsibility for the choices your kids make.
Do your best and ….let go again.
11. We want our kids to be self aware, self directed and to take responsibility for their lives and they can only do that if we model that for them ourselves. Your emotional responses are always up to you. You always have a choice.
It’s one of the toughest challenges we will ever face because it requires strength of character to see yourself, warts and all, and know that there’s still some way you need to go. It’s tough because you can easily choose not to see this and continue on your path – who’s to say anything anyway? We always have a choice. Even when we may not like the choices presented to us, it’s still a choice and we owe it to ourselves to see this. Doing so will mean that we direct our own lives instead of choosing to believe that our lives are outside our control.
12. To be in charge as a parent is to be able to inspire your kids to motivate themselves. You want, not to control them, but to influence them. Unless they are free to make their own choices, they cannot make the distinction between choices and consequences.
An important point here : we need to allow our kids to make choices, even if we are scared of what may be decided. Choices which lead to consequences which we must deal with, head-on, as well, with them.
13. Language has an amazing ability to frame interactions.
We know it from the language that hurt us when we were young and when we confronted those painful labels. Some things we didn’t expect stayed with us far longer than we thought possible because labels can really stick. Labels can define and mould us. And we must remember it now when it’s possible that we too may label or hurt in haste, in retaliation, in justification.
14. We are more comfortable with the known than the unknown.
So true. And the only way to deal with that is to invite into your life, a small dose of risk and fear, daily. So that you can feel comfortable with it. So that you can grow.
15. Becoming cool and non-reactive is about operating from your highest principles and not your deepest fears.
If managers and leaders around the world, communities, different racial groups and parents could operate non-reactively, and take the time to really step up to the issues, by responding and not reacting, we know that this world will be all the better for it. And it starts with us. It starts with you.