When my new, pregnant neighbor noticed my “PAUSE” button on the refrigerator door, she gave me a strange look.
I imagined her thinking, “Why would any loving parent need a big, stop-sign-shaped paper with ‘PAUSE’ written in all-caps on their wall (in several different places, to boot)?”
Years later, my neighbor admitted that she thought I was a bit unstable at the time, but now that her daughter was 5 and her son was 3, she understood exactly why that pause button was posted on my walls.
If you are a parent, I’m guessing that you understand too.
Whenever I started to lose my temper with my kids (which is easier than ever these days), I gave them permission to remind me to hit the PAUSE button. It helped me to recognize my emotional state and take a moment to calm down.
I posted one button on the refrigerator, one in the kids’ bathroom, and another next to the piano: places where I was most likely to “flip my lid” and then do or say things I’d later regret.
When my kids could tell that my blood was boiling, they’d say, “Hey Mom, do you need to hit the PAUSE button?”
I’d yell back, “YES, I NEED TO HIT THE PAUSE BUTTON!” But then I’d stomp over and slam the button with my hand which gave me something to do instead of hurling threats, blame, or shame toward my child.
About a week after explaining and posting my PAUSE button to my kids, I found another smaller one right next to it. My 8-year-old daughter had thought it a good idea and made her own.
My PAUSE button was inspired by a parenting class. In it, I’d recently learned Daniel Siegel’s “Hand Model of the Brain” which explained why we literally lose the capacity to think creatively and with empathy, and to control impulses when we are really upset, stressed out, or angry. (Watch Siegel’s 2-minute video demonstrating “flip your lid” with his hand as a model of the brain here.)
When emotional intensity is high, communication and problem-solving skills are necessarily low because the brain gets tricked into thinking that the emotionally intense situation is life-threatening and thus the body must prepare to save itself: “Forget about calm, creative thinking — you must act NOW!”
Even my favorite executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith, is famous for telling his leadership clients, “Don’t speak when angry.”
Why not speak when you’re angry? If you’ve ever, in a rage, typed out a vengeful email and hit send only to feel remorse seconds later, you already know why not. Thank goodness for Gmail’s “undo send” option.
Unfortunately with spoken words, we can’t undo. They’re out there and while we can learn from mistakes and make a repair, it would be better if we could learn to bite the old tongue and take a PAUSE!
Learning to recognize when we’ve lost our cool and then take steps to calm down before reacting is one of the most important lessons I learned (and am still practicing!) from Positive Discipline.
I’m guessing that at least 70% of my parenting mess-ups happen when I’ve flipped my lid. Now, with the added pressure of a pandemic, lid-flipping is so much easier!
When I can remember to take a pause, calm down, and then come back to the conversation, everything changes: I feel better about what I’m modeling for my kids, they’re more likely to hear me and cooperate, and we strengthen rather than weaken our connection.
“It’s not an emergency!” says child behavior expert, Bryan Post. And he’s right. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I actually can take a moment to stop what I’m doing, breathe or get some water, and then respond to my children from a more calm, compassionate, and creative place.
Modeling and teaching emotional regulation is a big part of parenting well. Turns out, it’s a big part of living well, too. We can all benefit from noticing when we’ve flipped our lids, and learning how to self-soothe before engaging with others. Now more than ever, self-care and self-compassion will go a long way toward making that pause possible.
There are many tools to help yourself and your children learn emotional awareness and regulation skills. The PAUSE button is but one.
If you’d like to learn more about flipping your lid, the Positive Discipline take on “Time Outs,” and tools your children can use to build emotional awareness and regulation skills, join me for Peaceful Parents, Cooperative Kids: from conflict and chaos to cooperation and calm, a Parenting with Positive Discipline series offered via Zoom or in-person in Oakland, CA.
In this fun, interactive class you’ll also learn:
- Alternatives to rewards and punishments that both work and teach long-term life skills
- How to design consequences that are helpful, not hurtful (it’s tricky!)
- A 3-step process to set limits that stick
- How to teach responsibility and promote pride in contribution through household jobs
- All about chores, allowance, and family meetings
- What it looks and sounds like to parent with kindness and firmness at the same time
- And more
Learn more about the online (via Zoom) Positive Discipline series that starts Sept. 23rd here.
P.S. After a while, the PAUSE button lost its effectiveness and I had to upgrade to this one which helped me envision the relationship I wanted with my children.
P.P.S. This is Elaina, 10 years-old in the picture. She is leaving for college in a few days. SIGH, the time goes fast! I love you, Elaina.