I was caught off guard. My fear of the smell of smoke on the porch put me into survival mode. Then I realized that I was talking in sharp, questioning phrases that sounded accusing and even harsh. Needless to say, nothing I wanted to happen could follow that display. Defenses rose, accusations flew from every direction and nothing changed about the situation at all.
I was so frustrated. But I was mostly mad at myself. I try to be the picture of patience in a situation where people are trying the best they can. All of us burn things, forget things and even try to cover our tracks with excuses. Bringing out a defensive response by being judgmental and accusing only escalates things toward the wrong end. I know that. I teach that. Sometimes I practice the very thing I know will never work.
Then my Love and Logic Parenting newsletter arrived in my inbox. Down in the featured article was the reason I was so frustrated. I had experienced this principle firsthand. What they always teach had operated exactly as they predicted. “Anger and frustration feed misbehavior,” Dr. Charles Fay reminded. That’s right. It wasn’t the burned food that caused the problem, it was my reaction to the situation that started everyone in the room down the wrong path to fix the problem.
Anger ratchets up a situation. Have you even been in a waiting room when a customer has a dispute with the business where you are an innocent bystander? It’s not your problem, you are completely satisfied with the service you are receiving. Someone else’s problem is raising your pulse and blood pressure and you aren’t even involved in any way. You can feel your heart beating in your throat. That’s how anger raises frustration in any of us.
Imagine being in the middle of an issue and having the same kind of words flying around. The fact that the issue touches your life directly guarantees that you will likely be sucked into the emotion of the moment.
Dr. Fay suggested that we allow these principles to help lower our emotions. Remind yourself that a faster heartbeat is usually followed by words that you regret. Instead of fantasizing how your brilliantly framed argument will somehow go differently this time, remember the last time when nothing went as you had hoped. A little thinking combined with a lot of prevention could save your next apology.
Your children will be leaving their toys in the hallway again this week for you to stumble over. Your 4th grader will forget to do the required homework, again, and you will be tempted to make it your problem. Your teen will mindlessly continue her game while you try to say something really important. Don’t give in to the frustration. If your pulse increases, delay the response. You need to take a breath. The toys will still be there in 15 minutes. The teacher won’t be grading you, the grade will land on the 4th grader’s record. I won’t even try to predict whether the phone will still be playing the same game in 15 minutes.
Step back, take a breath, choose a good one liner and walk away. Even better, say nothing. Just hide the toys in the laundry basket on the dryer. Then your toddler can be the one trying to avoid frustration instead of you.