This is one of the most profound parenting principles there is:
Sometimes big cures and wide-sweeping change comes in tiny packages.
This one is only 3 seconds big.
I'm a talker. If you are like me your mouth opens instantaneously. When I'm in a good mood the Mouth is lovely.
"You're awesome!" "Thanks so much!" "Hey, I love you!"
But when I'm not in a good mood the Mouth is not so nice...
"No!" "You're making a mess!" "You can get more paper only if you clean it up."
Living with a bad Mouth can make anyone tense.
(Have you ever tried to NOT make a mess when you were tense? Have you ever tried to NOT forget something when you are tense? It's a set-up that readers can see from page one. You know the main character is going to get it in the end. Or your kids, and that's no fun for anyone.)
Not wanting to put up with my own Mouth anymore, I tried to fix it.
I tried to only say nice things. I tried to get more sleep. I tried many, many, many things but they only made me feel worse because they centered on the fact that I'm not always as nice to my kids as I want to be. :(
But even worse, they didn't work.
So I looked at the problem from a new perspective. Instead of trying to fix it so that I'm always in a good mood or always thinking nice thoughts (tall mountain to climb, ya think?) I realized that it doesn't matter if I'm tired, it doesn't matter if I'm cranky, it matters what I say.
So one day I decided to add 3 seconds - just 3 seconds - of silence before I answered a question, said anything or opened my mouth.
This small thing changed my life. It changed my kid's lives.
Instead of knee-jerk "no's" or stress-induced "nagging" I made conscious choices before I spoke. I could say, "Let me think about that one for a moment before I give you my answer". Or I could simply clean up the spilled water without a fuss.
Noticeably and quickly the atmosphere in the house rose but do you know what else happened?
I was in a much better mood and I thought much nicer thoughts! Ha!
The best part yet: it was so easy to implement compared to "fixing" myself. I didn't have to change me. I didn't have to become a better person. I just had to add 3 seconds.