I did not sleep well the previous night yet found myself waking up on a Saturday at 7am to still make myself breakfast. Sure enough, right after I gobbled that down I found myself back in bed. My 7-year old son woke up around 830am and ate his cereal – at the kitchen table – that was previously prepped for him the night before.
We wanted our son to be more independent, in the event my wife and I would need to leave for work before he woke up, so he can dress himself, eat and be ready for someone to pick him up and take him to school.
While I was in my deep dream state of sleep, I remembered my son coming into the room with his school notebook. He was excited and wanted to share with me his last homework assignment due for the week. I told him I would look at it later when I woke up because I could barely open my eyes.
After I woke up and we ate lunch, I asked if he wanted to review his homework. He was still excited to show me his notebook. He wanted me to read it aloud since he was so proud of himself that he completed the assignment on his own. The book review assignment started out strong and I provided reinforcing statements to stroke his ego. But then the last part did not flow well so we talked about it for a while. I really sensed he was shutting down and not handling the criticism well. Because he was shutting down, my natural reaction was to become frustrated and angry.
Right before the moment the drill sergeant persona was about to surface, I did a quick HALT to assess what was actually happening in this moment:
For more information on HALT, click here.
HALT was something I learned in one of the many retreats I attended and has been an invaluable resource when I am about to lose my S**T on someone!
I took a moment. Saw he looked like a deer in headlights, just staring at his notebook. I can feel his frustration and emotion. Reminiscent of my adolescence when my dad did a “final review” of my homework essays back in middle school. Or even more recent, the feeling I had when I submitted crime reports to my Field Training Officer (FTO) while on probation with the police department. When I would receive the essay or report back, the paper no longer was legible with all the red markings indicating mistakes or errors. I could not help but feel worthless.
With my older kids (pre-adults now) and also with my 7-year old, I have strove to evolve as a parent and also as a person. So I asked my son to turn around in his chair and face me as I sat on his bed and talked with him. I acknowledged his emotional state and asked why he was frustrated. Through tears and uncontrollable sobbing, he let me know that he was upset and said, “I just wanted it to be right!”
My son is really hard on himself. He constantly strives for perfection. He so badly wants to be grown and independent. His mind prevents him from focusing once his emotions have taken over.
I can relate.
Aware that we were not going to be able to focus on the homework in his current emotional state, I asked if we can do our daily meditation practice. He agreed to taking a break to meditate. For the past year, my wife and I have been integrating meditation into his life to teach him the value of mindfulness. Meditation teaches him how reduce the clutter in his mind by being present. Meditation practice today was not only for his benefit but for mine as well.
After our meditation, we went back to his room and reviewed his homework. I asked him for suggestions how it might be improved. He provided some great ideas! So, I left him to rewrite the last part. A few minutes later he quickly came to my office in excitement. He wanted me to read the updated draft. But he did not want me to read it “in my head” but aloud. Sure enough, it was pretty awesome.
After applauding his efforts and providing the final stamp of approval, he left my office with obvious content and gratification. When I saw that, I too felt a sense of fulfillment. Those moments are far and few between, but when they do come, I stop and acknowledge the fact that the personal work I have been doing is life changing.
Physical health improvements can be measured (i.e. lower cholesterol levels, increased muscle mass, decreased body fat). Establishing and achieving mental health goals is a bit more challenging.
Instead, I continue to use various resources I have accumulated over time to help facilitate mindfulness, awareness and living a life of gratitude.
In addition to utilizing the HALT acronym from above, if something is awry emotionally, I really need to identify what it is that is out of place. With my son I felt frustrated. I felt the anger. I did not really prepare myself ahead of time to do school work at that moment.
Next, I acknowledge the emotion I am feeling. If I ignore it, it will fester and grow to a point where the emotion will eventually project onto someone else unknowingly.
MAKE A DECISION.
Lastly, a decision must be made. I call this the 50/50 rule. Knowing what I know of the emotion I am feeling, I can either choose to allow it to consume me further OR I can choose to take control and make a positive decision. This is where I am challenged on a daily basis. The 50/50 rule. Various factors play into my ability or inability to make the best decision. For example, stress, anxiety, everything outlined in the HALT acronym above. By removing/handling various stresses (i.e. job, finances, relationship, etc.), it allows me to make the best decision when it comes to the 50/50 rule.
So when I was faced with that 50/50 decision with my son, I stopped for a brief second and asked myself, why am I being impatient? I have nothing pressing on my schedule. I have nowhere else to be right now than right here. All of a sudden, a certain calm came over me and I sat down on his bed and calmly asked him to talk with me further.
I can recall many past experiences – and I am sure there are just as many instances I cannot remember – where I chose the less productive decision and it just sucked. I cannot go back and change those moments. All I can do is take ownership and responsibility for my actions and work on making better decisions in the future.
It is refreshing to actually observe the personal work I have been doing is paying off. But just like anything else in this world I want, I have to continue to work for it and improve daily.
We are all a work in progress.