“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein.
There are times in parenting when predictability is useful. When children see that certain behaviours always produce the same results they are less and less likely to try to push the proverbial envelope. They get it. X=Y.
There are, however, also times when predictability is downright counter productive. We all know those moments where we have tried the same thing over and over and it never has any effect (or not the desired effect anyway).
You see, the person with the greatest range of behavior always controls the situation. We’re stupid like this sometimes, us parents. We’ve had 30 or 40 years of conditioning making us quite predictable in our behaviours, quite limited in our scope, quite easy to read and to manipulate.
Kids learn fast. They’ve also had a lot less time to limit their range of behaviours and possibilities. They see when something is not working and try another approach. And then another. And then another. And then another.
If we don’t have as many responses in our parenting arsenal, guess who wins?!
Sometimes in parenting, it is useful for us to step outside of our boxes – to do something unexpected and unpredictable and out of character. We need to expand our repertoire of behavior, step out of our conditioning and do something surprising and unusual.
I’ll give you an example. When my daughter was about 4 years’ old I decided I had had enough of the ongoing tantrums. She’s a very strong-willed child and easily frustrated when she doesn’t get her way. We all know that point when a child’s whine is about to escalate. That is the moment to act. So before she could launch herself properly into her tantrum, I threw myself down on the floor, kicking and screaming and wailing and had my own tantrum!
She got such a fright that she just sat there and stared at me… And then went on about her day.
The great thing was that the next time she was about to throw a tantrum, she got to that exact same point and then it was like her brain did a little freeze-frame and she stopped, looked around at me, and gave up on the tantrum.
In coaching, we call this a ‘pattern interrupt’. It means that we literally interrupt the conditioned pathway in the brain by doing something shocking or surprising before the pattern can play itself out. It works. But you need to act at the beginning of the behavior and you need to commit to going all the way!
Now I’m not saying that you should do this for every tantrum. There are times when a child is just tired, or has had too much sugar, or is genuinely upset. But for those times where they are simply playing out a conditioned pattern, it can help to ditch a bit of your own conditioning and have some fun!