heat of the moment

Parenting in the Heat of the Moment

What are the parenting moments that make you lose it the most? Maybe it’s having to repeat yourself for the ten-thousandth time: “How many times am I going to have to tell you to clean up after yourself?” Or maybe it’s the things they do that feel like a poor reflection on you: “How could you embarrass me like that?” How about the moments that scare you? “I didn’t know where you were and it’s past midnight!” (The list could go on, couldn’t it?)

Whatever doozy of an issue is thrown at you, you can see that look on your kid’s face as he or she braces for your reaction. You’re scared or angry or embarrassed or tired, and the words start to rise in your throat. What comes out of your mouth next will have a critical impact. What’s it going to be in the heat of the moment? Here are 5 strategies for fathering in the heat of the moment.

1. Choose your words carefully.

A father’s words carry special weight. They can wound or heal, bless or destroy.

You know that old saying: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. Completely not true. Words matter. A father’s words carry special weight. They can wound or heal, bless or destroy. So in the heat of the moment, remember that what comes out of your mouth next is not a “throwaway” moment. You have an emotion-packed opportunity to speak words of life to your child—even if those words still need to be discipline. Before you vent your own emotion, take even a few seconds to consider how your next words count.

2. Make sure you’ve listened well.

How many times have you flown off the handle, reacting to a situation with incomplete understanding? Ask a follow-up question or two in order to make sure you’ve understood what’s going on and what’s at stake for your kid. Here’s a great question to ask: “Is there anything else you want me to know about this?”

3. Assess your ownership of the situation.

Maybe what’s in front of you really is a complete surprise. But maybe there’s something you need to own that’s contributed to the complication. Maybe your instructions weren’t as clear as you thought. Maybe you’re upset because of your own issues. Maybe there’s an area where you carry some of the blame and responsibility. Before trying to tighten the screws on your kid, make sure you own (to your child) how you’ve contributed here.

4. State your job as Dad.

You’re here to love, protect, train, and discipline your kid, among other things. In the heat of the moment, it’s helpful—especially for older kids—when you clarify what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s helpful for you and for them. What are my objectives here? Oh, yeah. “Kid, I’m here to love you, and nothing is going to get in the way of that even if, right now, that means you’re probably not going to like the way this goes down.”

5. Get on the same team.

Ever noticed how easy it can be to make someone else the problem? We take complex situations, try to reduce them to something simple, and have a tendency to make a person the problem instead of the circumstance itself. Think about your kid for example. He or she is in trouble. You both know it. But your kid doesn’t have the life experience you do. Rather than distancing yourself from your child in the heat of the moment, how can you work to get on the same team? “OK. We’ve got a real problem here. But I’m in this thing with you. Here’s how we’re going to address this.”

That’s a different approach than acting as if the core issue is simply that your child is a screw-up. That alienates. You want to be coach, teammate, trainer, and occasional pinch-hitter. Get on the same team. Following these steps will help you make the most of the opportunity and challenge of parenting in the heat of the moment.

Sound off: Share a heat-of-the-moment interaction with your kid that you wish you could do over.

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What is the best thing to do in a situation in which you are angry?”