Repairing the Relationship

I went to a 2-day conference this past weekend and saw one of the founding “fathers’ of play therapy, Dr. Garry Landreth. He has been working with children as a play therapist for 50 years! Among many of his rich and interesting stories about the field of play therapy, were the pearls of wisdom that Dr. Landreth gave us. One that I found to be very powerful, especially for us parents is “It’s not what you do that is important but what you do after what you have done.” So, as parents, we goof! For example: instead of patiently answering our child’s question, one that s/he has asked for the 100th time, we grow impatient and respond inappropriately and out of frustration. Our child walks away hurt or gets angry back. We have bruised the relationship with our child. This leaves us feeling bad/guilty/sad/ _______(Fill in the blank.).

We give lots of importance to what we have just done. We berate ourselves because we have not lived up to our standard of being the perfect parent. Therefore, if we follow the words of Dr. Landreth, we will want to shift the focus of what we have just done over to repairing what we have done, thus repairing the relationship with our child. How do we do this? It’s not hard but the hardest part for many is admitting that we made a mistake, that we were less than perfect. It is important to model being less than perfect, model making mistakes and how we recover from these mistakes. Mistakes are an important part of learning. If we weren’t meant to make mistakes, erasers would not have been invented!

The repair is really quite simple the “what you do after what you have done” part of the equation.

1. Allow for a cooling off period. Let yourself cool off and gain composure. Your child may need to have a cooling off period too. This can be from 30 minutes to 2-3 hours. See my post on the cycle of anger.

2. Tell your child what you did not do well. Admit that your performance was less that perfect. It’s okay for your child to see this part of you, to see that people are not, nor need to be, perfect.

3. Say, “I wish I had ________ instead of __________ (What you did). This is a very important part as it also teaches your child what s/he can do as an alternate behaviour. So in the example above, losing patience, you might say, “I really did not handle that well when you asked me that question over and over. I got frustrated and yelled, I’m sorry. I wish I had said instead ‘I’m  frustrated by you asking me the same question over and over, so please don’t ask me again.’ ”

4. There are no buts in this equation. Do not say, “I really did not handle that well when you asked me that question over and over BUT it frustrated me.” But implies that you had good reason to blow up, that you are not responsible for your actions. This is not what you want to model.

Now you have just repaired the relationship and modelled it for your child. Try it next time you “goof” and I can assure you that you will have many opportunities to practice these 4 easy steps of making repairs!!

Share your successes or your challenges.

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