Does your little angel sometimes act like the 'Evil Emperor?"
Most parents (for the sake of their sanity and social appearance) want their darling children to behave perfectly at ALL times. A 'good kid' is always good, right?
Actually, no. In reality — every good kid has a 'dark side." It's all part of being human.
And dealing with your child's 'dark side' is a challenge every good parent must face. Which, of course, is easier said then done, because allowing your kids to face their own demons is rarely pretty.
To help you handle the 'Evil Emperor' lurking inside your good kid, here are six "Jedi mind tricks" that help transform epic battles into moments of great parenting:
1. Teach lessons about empathy at every age and stage.
While the capacity to feel empathy is innate in most children. You must actively (and consistently) cultivate empathy for it to truly take hold. Nurture wins over nature on this one. Rather than teaching only "do as I say" rules (which reinforce dominance as the ultimate measure of power and success), help your children imagine how others will feel about their behavior.
When your kid does something unkind (even cruel), ground yourself in the knowledge that even though that gleam in their eye seems vicious or mean-spirited; your boy or girl is innocent at heart. Your child just needs help practicing how to act on his or her instinctive, powerful impulses in a non-destructive way. An essential skill to learn if having friends is a goal in life (not just having power).
Later on in life, people will love and respect your child’s ability to speak his or her mind in a loving manner. But, be clear — children DO need their 'dark side' energy to become successful, assertive adults! The 'dark side' (shadow) is part of the core of your child; along with the wonderful, loving being he or she is.
2. Engage in (healthy) power struggles with your child.
Power struggles are normal. They're a place for children to practice balancing dark energy ("I want my way") with light energy ("How can we all feel good about this?). To master their own shadow side, they must battle your shadow.
Make sure your child feels some power and influence to push up against the boundaries you must clearly hold as a responsible adult. Let your child "win" some of the battles he or she feels strongly about.
3. Change their brain (without them even realizing it).
Channel your youngster’s head-strong, innocent meanness toward passion and creativity. When your 3-year-old (or, 13-year-old) acts out, any positive passion and creativity may seem hidden, however it's there, trust me.
All good Jedi parents must learn the challenging art of staying calm (in the face of a child's outburst) and then using their own calm to refocus the 'dark side' anger or energy of their child toward a more constructive focus. The goal is not shutting your child down, but rather, harnessing that need to "win" and "control" into something positive.
Children actually grow new connections in their brain when they learn how to redirect their intense feelings this way.
4. Master (and use) your own 'dark side.'
Your child will instinctively know where you bottle up your dark energy and how to poke at your defenses. To stay one step ahead of them, you must know your own 'dark side' better than your children do — how your shadow helps you, or when it hurts you.
If you were over-disciplined as a child, you likely learned to bottle-up your own powerful feelings out of fear of stricter discipline. You might then pass this over-disciplined fear on to your child by rushing to squelch any signs of being questioned or challenged.
If you were under-disciplined, perhaps you didn't fully learn the consequences of inappropriate shadow actions. You may find setting and holding healthy boundaries difficult as an adult. Keeping yourself calm when your child provokes you may also feel difficult, but it's worth reaching for.
5. Meet your child's 'dark side' with fair but firm consequences.
If your child pull's the cat’s tail — a time out (one minute per year up to 10-years old) is in order, followed by an apology to the cat and touching the cat kindly (model the behavior you DO want to see). Also, have your child look you in the eye and acknowledge what he or she did.
If your child is mean to others — In addition to a time out or losing privileges, your child needs to explain what he or she did. With older children and teens, identify "consequence tasks' together that you've agreed to in advance. That way, if they chose the behavior, they've also chosen the consequence.
If you have a physical child, a physical task is best (be sure everyone is safe). If this activity is helpful to the family, all the better (moving firewood, pulling weeds, raking leaves, shoveling snow, etc). Doing dishes, cleaning and other household tasks are great, too. Your child needs to apologize to and perform a kind act for the person she or he hurt to finish the discipline.
Fair but firm consequences speak louder (and make a more lasting impression) than a long, boring lecture any day!
6. Win with consistency (not dominance).
Find a consequence that works and stick with it throughout that stage of your child's growth. Get your youngster in the habit of looking you in the eye as a part of every consequence.
When your child repeats a bad behavior, you're at an advantage knowing exactly which consequence to consistently use. Practicing a consequence each time should result in less effort on your end and helps your child see that you aren't wavering. The standard you set is steadfast.
Even your 18-month-old can learn to give a soft hug to a person or animal they hit, poked, pulled or squished. Set those behavior standards early and reinforce them consistently.
A child's 'dark side' has value and purpose.
Your job is to help your children harness that energy and use it in positive ways. The powerful energy hidden in your child’s meanness contains the seed of his or her future assertiveness, passion and creativity.
So parent bravely, Jedi moms and dads! And may The Force be with you!!!
Bill Maier is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, OR. Visit his website. He can be reached for further information by email or telephone.