The Importance of Self Correction
Our conscience will tell us when we are doing something that we are not supposed to be doing. Sometimes it comes in the form of a voice in your head and sometimes it comes as a pain in your gut. Either way, it is our job to examine these indicators so that we stay on the path we have been working our butts off to pave.
Now, our conscience isn’t always there. Occasionally, it will fall asleep on the job, or not show up at all. Sometimes we even kick our conscience out on the curb. But I would argue that when it comes to parenting our children, our conscience will do a pretty good job of telling us what is right and what is wrong. We have to listen to it though.
Our brains form pathways through repetitious actions. You learn how to walk from your mother catching you when you fall and putting you back on your feet to try again. You learn how to write your letters by tracing on the dotted line, then writing them a thousand times more without the lines. You learn your addition and subtraction facts by counting objects and practicing flashcards. You learn how to ride your bike when you are small, then you spend most of your days riding your bike. The pathway in your brain is formed, not during the first couple of days without your training wheels, but rather the 8 summers in between when you were glued to your bike for days on end. If you think that it is any different when it comes to your communication skills, you are poorly mistaken.
If you were raised in a house hold where the communication was hostile, manipulative, loud, or aggressive, then when you’re back in a family of your own, the way you learned to communicate will naturally come back to you. Just like riding a bike, you won’t have forgotten because the pathway in your brain has been paved for years; and with all the construction you have done on it you have built yourself a full blown freeway. Not getting on that freeway, when its the fastest way (that you know of) to deal with conflict, can feel impossible.
So what do you do? Obviously, the best thing would be not to resort to your natural dysfunctional tendencies but I’m not going to sit here and act like that’s easy when you’re in the heat of the moment. Thinking that you’re never going to make another mistake, and that the only option is to be perfect is a complete fallacy. We are humans, very very complex beings, and we are not perfect. Getting rid of years of poor communication skills is not going to be easy, especially, if you have not accepted them for what they are until after you have started a family of your own.
While we try our best to suppress our urge to hit the easy button sometimes our urge will suppress our good intentions and we end up resorting to our old ways. Caveat: While I believe that this is an inevitable fate for those of us who did not grow up with a good example of how to communicate, I do not believe this should be used as an excuse not to hold yourself accountable for your actions. This leads me to the conclusion that the best practice is not to perfect developing perfect communication skills, because what the hell do we know about communication, but it is to perfect the art of self correction.
So what does it mean to self correct? It’s what you do after you take responsibility for your actions. Sure, you know that you shouldn’t have lost your patience with your child and you accept that action as wrong; that is accepting responsibility for your actions. Now, communicating poorly does not end a conflict, and if you were communicating poorly then you did not solve the conflict either. So, self correcting would be admitting your failure to your child and moving forward through the conflict in a healthy way. This means that you apologize and then you proceed to solve the conflict using a different, healthier, form of communication. When we end a conflict by apologizing for our actions, without an actual resolve to the conflict, we are teaching them nothing about how to accurately solve a problem.
It is also important to remember that you can apologize for an action that took place during a feeling you were experiencing without actually apologizing for your feelings. I found that I felt like apologizing for loosing my temper meant apologizing for my feeling, which isn’t fair. Sometimes your kids won’t listen, which is fine, but the fact is being ignored is frustrating. While that doesn’t give you a right to yell, scream, insult, or otherwise, your feeling frustrated is completely valid. This is important to understand because thinking that you have to apologize for your feelings is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when trying to move forward, in any relationship. Feeling like you would be apologizing for your anger is what makes our brains start justifying our actions. Then we dig our heels into the ground and refuse to move. Basically, it fuels the fire.
You could say something to your child like: “I’m sorry that I raised my voice. I feel very frustrated because you weren’t listening to me when I was speaking. I should not have spoke so abrasively, that was absolutely wrong. It is hard to learn new forms of communication when you have been taught a different way your whole life but no matter how hard it is I will continue to work on controlling my anger. I still feel frustrated about the fact that you weren’t listening to me. I always take the time to listen to you and when you don’t listen to me, I feel like you don’t care about my words. What are your thoughts on what I just said? How do you think we should move forward?”
The best lesson I ever learned was to admit my failures to my children. Yes, they see you as perfect; and yes, you can capitalize on that for a portion of their lives. But isn’t it better to be humble and honest with them? Then they learn that you make mistakes just like they do. They also learn that you care enough about them to own up to your mistakes. And you teach them that when you make a mistake you could manipulate the situation but the best thing to do is to correct yourself as soon as you can so that you can move forward to actually solving the problem.