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When a Crisis Arises, Don’t Panic

1. Count to ten. But you can do it quietly—in your head. If you can put a few seconds of time between hearing the crisis and giving your response, you’ll be able to talk more reasonably with your child.

2. Bite your tongue. Literally. It will remind you not to talk when the only words that would come out would be critical and judgmental.

3. Put your hand over your mouth. Not in a way that shows dismay or horror, but to quiet yourself. You may need to give yourself a physical restraint to keep from saying something you’ll regret.

4. Walk away. Yes, leave the room. Give yourself some physical space to help you recover from the shock of what you’ve seen or heard. (It’s also a great technique to really sober your child and make him/her wonder what will be coming next!)

5. Do anything you can think of to prevent yourself from saying something that will damage your child’s spirit or hurt your relationship.

When my daughter Carol was in sixteen, she got drunk at a party, fell over the beer keg and broke her nose. When she came home that night, she woke us up as usual to let us know she was safely home, then dropped into bed. She said nothing about her predicament. However, the next morning when she sheepishly came downstairs to the kitchen, she had two black eyes, a sore nose and a defeated spirit. She promptly came forth with the entire story—no details omitted.

We could have yelled, made a fuss and punished her immediately. But fortunately, we didn’t panic. As we listened to her woeful tale, we actually felt sorry for her—remembering some pretty stupid things we had done when we were young. I was upset and concerned about her behavior, but I also knew I wanted to be able to talk with her about teenage drinking, addiction (which was in her family) and all the self-esteem issues that often prompt kids to follow the crowd. Cutting her off with a heavy hand and a harsh punishment might have closed her down to me and prevented me from talking with her and helping her in the future. Besides, how could I have punished her more than the universe around her?  She had to have surgery and wear a drip pad under her nose for several days in school. Doctor’s orders prohibited her from going with her friends on a camping trip to the desert over spring break. She couldn’t play soccer for the rest of the year. And she had to answer all the probing questions of her teachers and the other kids in school. I got to use the opportunity to show compassion, talk about the ramifications of drinking and appreciate her for being honest with me.

The result? She learned a big lesson about drinking. It helped to cement our relationship because she knew I was understanding and on her side. She knew she could trust me to be supportive and to be there for her when she needed help. I got to be the one she talked to—and listened to—in the midst of her tough times. And that’s about as good a parenting gets.

Related Links:
Calming Herbs: Which to Use
The Problem with the Teenage Mind
Feng Shui for the Teenager’s Room

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Joanne Stern

Joanne Stern, PhD, is a psychotherapist with a private practice emphasizing counseling with families, parents, couples and teens. She’s a teacher, consultant, speaker, and expert guest on parenting and family topics, including communication, discipline, self-esteem, addictions, eating disorders, grief, and loss. Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life is her first book. A mother and grandmother, she and her husband, Terry Hale, live in Aspen, Colorado.

32 comments

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2:37PM PDT on Jun 16, 2011

What is a parents 'mission statement'? Ever ask yourself that? What as a parent are you supposee to be doing? Keeping the children 'under control'? Keep them from making you look like a 'bad' parent? Isn't our mission statement to raise our child with love so they feel good about themselves and that they can come to you with whatever problem faces them? Punishment(grew up in the 'Bible belt' yes beld..which was sometimes appled)leads children down the wrong road...I learned to lie...TALK to your children,spend time with your children,protect your children and teach them how to protect themselves.

6:06PM PDT on Jun 12, 2011

Panicking is counter productive!

2:53PM PDT on May 8, 2011

Yeah it's tough decision. Only I let him or her go of house until learna real life lesson.

2:45AM PDT on May 5, 2011

i think the key here is balance.. the article makes some good points but I don't think it speaks for all situations.. I mean "keeping calm" is always a good idea, this way you will respond rather than react and will be less likely to regret it later. But the example given is annoying because the situation it spoke of had it's own consequences therefore reefing the author and her husband from having to make any real discipline choices.

I agree and hope i can reign in my temper when my daughters start coming home with bigger teenage issues than the tweeny ones they have now. But the reality is thatr we can not control everything, we can only do our best and hope to God that whatever thet get into against our adivce they'll eventually grow out of!

We also have to accept that some kids never do grow out of their problems and are plagued by these forever... here it is important not to lay blame on yourself as it won't be helping your kid to do so...

There a lots of things in my childhood which i could blame for some Stupid decisions i made in late teens and 20's but the fact is there comes a time when you stop being a kid and become an adult and no matter what happend before you are responsible for your actions.. if you have issues you seek help...

As parents there really is only so much you can do...

9:21AM PDT on May 2, 2011

Thank you! As a single mom of two teenager daughters I thank you for the timley article. First let me say I add single mom because I do handle all the disclipline. I don't have a back up. Second, I appreciate your steps to keeping calm and compassionate. I believe when we do this we don't shut our teens out but allow them to open up. The last few months have been challening form my 17 year old daughter and myself as she learns to naviagate this brave new world. Your article made me feel like this is all normal and I am doing the best I can.

8:04AM PDT on May 2, 2011

Thank you for the tips!

6:41AM PDT on May 2, 2011

Very helpful, thanks.

3:56AM PDT on May 2, 2011

Thanks for very informative tips

11:24AM PDT on May 1, 2011

thanks for the tips!

2:52AM PDT on May 1, 2011

Toni, I am so sorry that you had to go through that with your children. I almsot had a fairly similar situtation with my son. He was only fifteen but he reached out to a very disfunctional family where the mother drank and the six children were sent off to school with no food. My son asked if he could take food up to them on the way to school I said of course he could. ( He was such a greatkid!) Anyway, to cut a long story short. He spent a lot of time up there and I wondered why he was becoming so different and distant and weird and rude and hating school ad dpressed. It was a while until I realized that they were on drugs and giving them to my son. As soon as I found out, I told the police, who came and busted the family. The cop asked me what I wanted him to do and I said that I wanted him to put the fear of God into him as I was divorced and had noone to back me up. He did just that and my poor son had a horrible time in the cop shop whilst he got a real scare! When he got home I told him that the next day was the first day of his new life and I would never mention it again. Against everyone's advice, I let him leave the school he hated and was going all the wrong classes and let him study from home for an electronic diploma.. He never looked back. he became a lovley kid, hard-working and he just studied with such dedication. today he is just about the loveliest adult you could ever meet,and has a great job as a computer engineer.

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