This is a question I’ve been asked many times and it’s one that I spent years trying to figure out for myself.
It’s a question that was in my head most days while my youngest son was going through his swearing phase.
His swearing phase lasted many years and gradually became more dramatic as he explored the full scope of swearing and learned new words. His swearing was almost always directed at me and was literally in my face. How do you react when your 14 year old child calls you a “f**king bitch?
Some would regard this as a sign of my “failure” as a parent.
Many would see it as cause for immediate punishment of the child.
But I’ve always chosen peaceful and conscious parenting, so I didn’t go down the punishment path. There were no “consequences” imposed on him and I didn’t shame or shun him. I didn’t even lecture him.
Instead of punishment I applied the Golden Rule: “treat others as you would like them to treat you.” I gave to my son what I wanted to receive: respect.
Treat others as you would like them to treat you.Ancient wisdom
I chose to model respectful communication, even in the face of being called a “f**king bitch”.
But making this choice and actually DOING IT turned out to be very different things.
Despite my best intentions I still got triggered. My “buttons” were well and truly pushed and experienced some big emotional reactions. I yelled. I swore. I cried.
To model respect I had to unlearn my emotional reactions. I had to get rid of the buttons so they couldn’t be pushed. I was being called into a deeper level of self-respect and awareness.
How do I teach my child respect in a respectful way?
- Apply First Aid.
When my son swore at me I would sometimes get upset. I would feel hurt. So I practiced applying First Aid to myself by making space to stop and deal with my feelings. I learned to simply “be there” for my own disturbed emotions until they passed. I was aware of the rush of emotional energy, but I discovered that I didn’t have to act on it or even express it verbally. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I said “I’m feeling hurt” or “I’m angry”.
Quite often I said “I don’t like to be talked to like that.” I made it clear that I wanted to be talked to in a respectful way. I’m sure he understood my dislike of his choice of language. And yet, my child was not able to give me what I requested in that moment.
It was OK to ignore the words and see past what he said to connect with the child that was upset, angry or struggling.
I learned that it is also OK to just walk away without saying anything. This was sometimes the most self-respectful thing I could do.
- Remove the buttons
This bit was better done once I’d calmed down and had a bit of time to myself. It wasn’t a quick fix, but rather a process of inner work. Unlearning takes some time.
My practice for removing those inner “buttons” was one of self-inquiry. I investigated what I was thinking about the situation.
I asked myself questions like this one: “Do I believe that I’m a f**king bitch right now?”
The answer is usually a resounding NO!
Once I was clear that I didn’t believe what my son said, it didn’t matter any more. I didn’t want to give these words any power over me. They didn’t have to mean anything to me. The emotional charge that occurred within me when I heard those words started to dissolve.
The other question that I liked to ask myself was “Have I ever been a f**king bitch?”
The answer was a resounding YES!
I could easily find the times that I’d attacked my son with angry words, judged him harshly or put him down. When I was really honest with myself there were lots of times that I’d been a “f**king bitch. If I owned my own shadow rather than protecting or hiding it, the impulse to defend myself or attack was diffused. This made it a whole lot easier to just hear what my son said and to walk away or move on without a big emotional reaction.
Each time I practiced the First Aid and this self-inquiry I felt more peaceful and clear. The strength of my emotional reactions gradually decreased to the point that I can now handle swearing without any hurt feelings. It’s like water off a duck’s back.
- Notice that he’s doing the best he can at this moment.
Before I’d done the inner work to remove the buttons there were many times that I reacted to my child swearing at me by projecting a judgment onto him. I’d often think “he’s rude” or “he’s being an arsehole”. Occasionally I’d be rude right back at him. I didn’t do this because I wanted to relate to my child in this way. I didn’t ever want to be that disrespectful, but sometimes it happened anyway. The truth is – I was doing the best I could at that moment. It helped to accept that rather than beat myself up. If the inner critic got fired up, the end result was me feeling A LOT worse and usually taking it out on those close to me.
If I could see my child’s outburst in the same way it helped to diffuse the situation. I reminded myself of Ross Greene’s wonderful book “The Explosive Child” which has a whole chapter entitled “Children do well if they can.”
An explosive outburst – like other forms of maladaptive behaviour occurs when the cognitive demands being placed upon a person outstrip that person’s capacity to respond adaptively.Ross Greene
When I read this I remembered that both me and my son were still learning how to handle our emotions in the kindest way possible. We were both doing the best that we could and we were both learning and growing.
I’m very happy to say that as I gradually unlearned my tendency to judge and verbally attack my son, that he gradually learned how to handle and express his feelings differently.
Once I could consistently model respectful communication, even in the face of his swearing at me, I felt so much happier and more peaceful. My emotional reactions were no longer fueling his emotional reactions.
His swearing phase has passed. He’s finally grown out of it.
What is even better than that, is that I have been liberated from my old patterns of reacting. A win – win if ever I heard of one.