Home article Child Misbehaving? The Power of ‘The Pause’

Child Misbehaving? The Power of ‘The Pause’

Child Misbehaving? The Power of ‘The Pause’

Your child reacts uncontrollably to something you have said. You either least expect it, highly disapprove of it, are hurt by it, or it reinforces what a terrible job you think you are doing as a parent. What’s your immediate reaction?


Let me guess. You react uncontrollably back. You yell, you blame, and you say and do things you swore you never would and regret it. Why do we do this when we know it doesn’t work? First because we’re human and human nature retaliates when confronted, afraid, and angry. The trick is not to feel confronted, afraid or angry—then you can respond in control of yourself.


This is where the Pause comes in. Stop yourself from doing anything. Breathe. Walk away, go for a walk, take a bath, sleep on it—take a break. This is the hardest step. “She can’t talk to me that way and get away with it! I’d be letting her know she won. She’s got to be taught a lesson or she’ll never learn!”


So let me try to convince you that none of that is true. You will only “let her get away with it” if you would rather sweep the incident under the carpet and not revisit the unpleasant event. She will only “win” if you declare yourself a loser. She will learn a lesson far more effectively when both of you are calm and she doesn’t feel blamed. Think about it. Children learn best when they are actively engaged in the learning. When they are struggling to uphold their side of things behind a wall of defense, the only thing they can focus on is protecting themselves from what they expect—attacks from an angry parent.


  • In order to stop yourself, it is useful to not take your child’s anger personally.
  • If you are afraid she will treat others this way, ask someone else who knows her. Does she speak disrespectfully to teachers, neighbors? Chances are, no. She saves her frustrations for you. Amazingly that is good news.
  • Your anger will only fuel hers further. If you want her to gear down, you need to be in the gear you want her to meet.
  • Don’t expect her to step off the power struggle wheel first, “Oh sorry, Mom. I get it now. You’re right. I should listen to you from now on.”

If you can pause and breathe, you will give yourself that 5 minutes to several hours you need to think, calm down and respond effectively. The DO find a way to go back over it. Maybe it’s at bedtime, in the car, while you’re doing dishes. Then instead of blaming and reacting you will have given yourself time to take responsibility for yourself, which tends to be catching.


“When I asked you to take your laundry upstairs, you reacted pretty angrily to me. I didn’t like the way you treated me. I get it that you didn’t want to do it and that I was interrupting your show. How could we have handled the whole situation differently so we both could have handled it better?”


I can guarantee, you will get a very different response and she will learn the lesson you want her to learn.

Bonnie Harris Bonnie Harris, M.S.Ed. is the director of Connective Parenting and is an international speaker and parent educator. She has taught groups and coached parents privately for thirty years. Bonnie is the author of two books, "When Your Kids Push Your Buttons" and "Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With”. You can learn more about her work at BonnieHarris.com or follow her on Facebook
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