There are days where it seems that all you do is get frustrated with your kids and fail to find your parental equilibrium. Of course you know what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to be a role model of reason and patience. Wise and understanding, yet firm and principled. And then they’ll throw a temper tantrum when you’re late for work, fight with their siblings for the “best” seat at the dinner table, beg for candy in the supermarket line, and refuse—absolutely refuse—to change their clothes, brush their hair, or eat their dinner.
Those are the times when parents often resort to 3D parenting: distraction, distortion, and deception. Yes, sometimes these may be necessary evils, the price of doing the business of parenthood. You really need your kids to do something NOW!, go somewhere FAST!, or just LEAVE YOU ALONE! for a few minutes. So you exaggerate the urgency, hyperbolize their intransigence, say mean things you don’t mean, make deals and promises you know you’ll never keep, or put them in front of the TV rather than hear one more whiny protest. I know, I’ve been there many times. This is not a holier-than-thou sermon, I promise.
Here’s the problem with those 3Ds: your kids lose their trust in you. Not all at once, and not if you slip into the Ds only once in a while, dealing with your kids honestly and without sleight of hand most of the time. But gradually, the more you resort to distraction, distortion, and deception, the less strong the bond of trust between you and your kids. They are more likely to distract, distort, and deceive in their relationship with you as they grow older.
There’s a solution to this problem. Replace those dark Ds with a set of three good and healthy Ds: defer, decompress, and deliver. At the height of tension and frustration, when you’ve simply got to be somewhere or get something accomplished, and when you feel your inner barometer rising, don’t deal with the deeper issues. Defer them to later that day, decompress the immediate crisis, and then deliver on your promise to resolve the issue under calmer circumstances. Your kids will get the message that you respect them, take their feelings seriously, and can be taken at your word. No trickery just to get through the crisis—rather an honest commitment to fix the problem together. Later.
By the time later comes around, make sure you don’t forget your pledge. But by then, because kids really do live in the moment, they may have completely forgotten the earlier crisis du jour. Call your child into a quiet spot, sit next to each other, and offer to discuss whatever was upsetting her and whatever was upsetting you. How much better is this quality time together, calmly discussing the issue, than the time you would have wasted earlier in the day had you continued the fight? When you realize how short the time we have with our kids really is, how many of those precious minutes, days, and weekends do you want lost to battles of wills and wars of words?
If she is still bothered when you meet later that day, work to fix it with her. If she has moved on, tell her you love her, tell her how you expect her to handle the next upset (remember, you are the parent and it’s your job to teach correct behavior). And then move on with her.