The Power of Pause: Transforming Relationships One Pause at a Time
by Alice Hanscam
PCI Certified Parent Coach®
My eldest daughter has been a great teacher for me—I like to refer to her as my "practice child," for her younger sister has reaped the benefits of all that I've learned from her. My greatest lesson? The power of pause. It seems to me this is the baseline for growing positive, respectful, all around healthy relationships with our children…and it took my child to bring it to my attention. I admit, I am still working on developing this skill—it is not easy, but the results are amazing—often truly transformational.
As Emily entered the teen years, our altercations ramped up. One particular time stands out as a turning point in my awareness of the value of pausing. Emily wanted something and I was reacting with my usual and quick "NO!" She mirrored my reactive-ness and verbally fought back. Things escalated and soon she was in a full out tantrum, one that would rival any toddler's. I'm not sure if I screamed (losing it just as my daughter had) for her to go to her room or if she just stomped off, but her door slammed and all became quiet. I remember sitting there on the floor, tears streaming down my face, seething with anger. My cat came to curl onto my lap—I'm not sure whether to seek comfort or to give it—and as I stroked her I found I could begin to collect myself.
My husband and I talked about what just unfolded and I began to relax and wish I could take back how I had behaved with Emily. And then I was completely surprised, for my daughter came out of her room, pushed the cat gently out of my lap, and curled her young woman's sized body into it. She lay there just as my cat had been moments before—curled up tight. I found the last of my reactive-ness fade away and I continued my stroking—but on my daughter's back this time. Soon we began talking and before long we had apologized, collaborated, and compromised—reaching a decision that truly was a win-win for both of us. A transformational moment in our relationship.
What allowed such a transformational experience to unfold? Emily employed the power of pause. She removed herself, calmed herself down, and reconnected. Her removing herself gifted me a pause, as well. I had space to let go of my anger, to take deep breaths, to calm myself down—allowing me to be receptive to her reconnection. My lessons didn't stop here. Many times through her teen years Emily created the pause that I was having a hard time doing. I grew to admire her ability to come back calmed down and ready to listen as well as be heard. My heart would open up, I would be able to truly hear what she was saying, and we'd usually find solutions that worked for both of us. But it took her being what I consider the bigger person—she used the power of pause successfully long before I did. She has been a great teacher.
How have I used my lessons? I now find I am able to be the one to employ a pause prior to responding reactively when one of my daughters "pushes my button." My pause looks different with each situation. Sometimes I model myself after a friend who is a pro at this already and say, "Let me think on that awhile and I'll get back to you"—and then I do, even if it takes all day to find the calm from which to work from. Sometimes I break eye contact, turning my attention to a chore that needs to be done. There have been times when all I can say is "I'm feeling angry, I need to take a walk," and then do so. And there are moments when I literally zip and lock my mouth and just sit with my child in their feelings.
Each time I find I am able to return to the subject of concern feeling ready to ask questions, listen, and be heard—as well as respected. What a difference from yelling, banging doors, tears, and "I'm going to do it anyway, you can't stop me" experiences. What message am I giving my girls when I can remain calm and connected as they explore the limits of life? I like to think they are learning appropriate ways to be an adult and to handle strong feelings. I believe they are feeling heard and respected, and in return they often find the limits I make acceptable. I look back on how Emily and I were a few years ago, and where we are now—our relationship has transformed into a mutually respectful and loving one that brings me incredible joy. I credit the power of pause as the key that unlocked our struggling relationship and allowed it to bloom.
What does a pause allow us to do—especially when employed before reacting? It allows us to act based on what we want most (for me, a positive and respectful relationship) rather than re-act based on the emotion or circumstance of the moment. When we use a pause, we have the ability to transform our relationships.
When have you felt great about and confident in the outcome of a conflict with your child? What did you notice about yourself? How could you use the power of pause to change the outcome of current conflicts you may be having? What would be different for you if the next time your child attempts to push your button you are able to create a pause for yourself? What does pausing look like to you?
We all want positive, respectful relationships with our children—and we want our children to grow up experiencing the same. Using the power of pause is a simple tool that has the profound ability to transform our relationships. Take a moment today, before reacting to your child, and think about what it is you want most with your relationship, and how this interaction could be a stepping stone in that direction. Take a moment to pause.
Alice Hanscam is a PCI Certified Parent Coach®, Certified Screamfree Trainer, and owner of Denali Parent Coaching. Visit her Web site at www.denaliparentcoaching.com, or contact her at (907) 868-6933 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.