mother with child playing on the beach

It starts innocently enough – you’re picking the kids up from school or getting ready to have dinner as a family. Everyone’s discussing how they spent their day, and then it happens: your kid behaves in a way you don’t think they should. He whines. He complains. He doesn’t listen. So, you criticize. Then the spiral begins…they react to your criticism, your emotions rise, and before you know it, everyone is feeling tension and stress. 

All you wanted was a peaceful hour of family time, but you got the opposite. The outcome is exactly what happens when you’re “shoulding” all over yourself. When you should on yourself, you pressure yourself (and your kids) to do or be what you think they’re supposed to. The word should implies something you feel you need to do in order to be good and worthy. I should work out, I should have a tidier house, the kids should be more polite, etc. When should is in your vocabulary, you’re trying to live up to an impossible standard, making yourself hypercritical and miserable.

It’s time to stop shoulding all over yourself, practice mindfulness as a parent, and enjoy the experience of relating authentically to your kids. Here’s how.

  1. Stop saying “should.” Stop putting so much pressure on yourself to get everything right all the time. Shoulding creates an environment where stress thrives, and the slightest trigger from your kids allows your emotions to take over. To take charge of your thoughts and feelings, you have to ditch the mindset of what you think you should do and embrace a mindset of what you can do, right here and right now. Or even better, what you want to do, right here and right now.
  2. Let your kids feel their feelings. Even the most attuned parents will have disagreements with their kids now and then. It’s natural and all part of being a family. What’s important during times of hurt feelings is to let your kids have a moment with their emotions. Instead of telling your kids “it’s not that bad” when they’re going through a negative emotion, give them a moment to process how they feel. You’re teaching them to self-regulate, which is a valuable coping skill at any age. You are also allowing them to experience that negative emotion instead of pushing it down, ignoring it, or reacting to it. Win-win.
  3. Own your own emotions. Nobody loves it when their tween calls them a jerk, but how you choose to react when it happens is entirely within your control. Reacting automatically to emotional outbursts tends to lead to more emotional outbursts, so try to see these moments as opportunities to become better at regulating your own emotions. When you can practice stepping back and not making their outburst mean anything about you, you become more aware of your feelings and thoughts and avoid impulsive decisions.
  4. Create strategies that work for you and your family. Within your family, is everyone allowed to set their own rules? For example, if your kid comes home from school and needs time to regulate before answering your questions about his day, does he get to have that? Here’s how we do rules in our family. One day, my son didn’t want to talk when we came home from school. I asked him what he needed and he said he just wanted to be alone. So, he got to be alone. Later that evening he was ready to dive into a conversation with me about his day.

    Of course, this is an ongoing and ever-changing process. Your family’s needs and the considerations you make for each member will be different from mine or anyone else’s. And that’s great, that is exactly as it “should” be!