Many years ago when my children were young, they used to do various things that made me pretty angry in the moment. I realized at the time that they weren’t doing anything different that most young kids did, but I would still get angry — shoes not put away, garbage not collected and taken out, TV on while doing homework; you get the general picture.
Not that my kids were committing capital crimes — I certainly got that. Not that I wasn’t being overly critical — in my quieter moments, I absolutely got that. It was just that in the heat of the moment I had a tendency to lose my temper more often than I wished I did, and for reasons that frankly didn’t warrant the extra grief that me losing my temper caused everyone around me. (I suspect that, unfortunately, many a parent can easily relate to my story thus far.) One day I came across a great idea (I think it might have been from a Jim Rohn newsletter, but I’m not really sure) that suggested when faced with this situation, take a deep breath and slowly respond: “You are my greatest teacher”. The point being that this person was in fact allowing you the opportunity to learn a great deal about yourself — about managing your emotions, choosing how you wanted to respond, and being intentional in your communications.
So I decided to put this into action. The first number of times I would still respond immediately and angrily however then I would force myself to say (out loud) slowly and calmly: “You are my greatest teacher”. Kind of like a mantra. And then I would usually apologize to my kid for my outburst, while reminding them of what had made me angry (“15 minutes ago you said that you would put away your shoes and hang up your coat right after that show ended. That show ended 10 minutes ago. I got angry because you didn’t do what you promised to do. I am sorry for yelling at you and I will try hard to improve and not get angry.”)
I kept at it and within a few weeks (luckily, I guess, I got lots of opportunities to try this out…) I was holding my tongue before getting angry, and simply stating verbally in a conversational tone: “You are my greatest teacher”. Two remarkable things started to happen — the first is that I was able to get my emotions in check before lashing out, and then deciding somewhat more rationally what I wanted to really do about the situation. Even more remarkably, I noticed that my kids followed through on their obligations more readily and when I did have occasion to speak this “mantra” to them, they were well aware of what it meant and seemed to take it much more seriously than my old unfocused anger.
I have a wonderful relationship with both my kids now (who aren’t really kids anymore but young adults) and I really believe this “addition” to my communication skills made a big difference in our lives and our willingness to hear and help each other. And the biggest compliment is: They have confided in me that they will often use this same technique with their friends when there is some flash point in their relationships.
My kids really have been my greatest teachers.