Movie trailers and shopping malls have something in common. When walking through malls I frequently see parent and child interactions that remind me of movie trailers. Why does a screen filled with fleeting loud and emotional scenes heighten our awareness and willingness to return for more? This past week, while walking through an outdoor mall, I saw a parenting trailer called: “The Growl.”
Standing outside a store I was startled by a young mother speaking to her child with a voice filled with anger. With a clenched jaw she pointed at her four year old son. “Get in that stroller now!” She shouted. Standing silent and invisible, I said to myself: “What are we teaching our children?”
Overwhelmed parents often behave counter to their intention and such actions are long remembered by a child. Feelings of anger, sorrow and fear heighten a child’s awareness and influences future behavior. Emotionally laden behaviors often teach children what we do not want them to learn. Our intentions are right but the outcome is wrong. Stress and a lack of emotional mastery cause this negative outcome. Although parents desire to teach cooperation and respect, anger, fear and regret are often substituted and remembered.
Parenting responsibilities are endless. They are continuous and not diminished by lack of sleep, illness, time and financial constraints. In fact, such constraints often increase the rate of parenting decisions. Parents are forced to act with limited time for thought or advice. Whether a child does something right or something wrong a parent must immediately decide how to respond. The response must be direct and memorable. We are taught to foster and respond to positive behaviors yet negative behaviors heighten our emotions. Caught in an emotional traction beam we frequently resort to punitive or negative responses and become a parent we do not recognize or wish to be.
Threats are short term solutions. They teach anger, aggressive behavior and avoidance. When we rely on threatening looks, harsh or scary tones and body or hand gestures a child shuts down. A vicious cycle of tension, failure and aggressive or acting out behaviors often result. Our words and manner of response become the lesson we teach as our intention disappears. Such negative emotional energy is seldom forgotten and is replayed over and over in the coming years by both parent and child. Like the movie trailer emotions bring the parent and child back for more.
What trailer will you show your child?