Spring 2019 / by Kirk Martin
Sit. Down. Now. No, this isn’t about commanding your children to do something. This is for you! Sit. Down. Now.
Sit down the next time you feel like stomping through the living room while yelling at your children. Sit down next the time you feel compelled to lecture or hover above your child. Sit down and color the next time your child is upset. There is something magical that happens when you sit.
Sitting changes your posture. It forces you to breathe in and relax. It’s more difficult to scream when you are sitting. If you can yell while lying in a hammock, you need therapy!
Sitting changes the dynamic between two people. If you stand above a child, you create a defensive response. That child is more likely to lie, blame others, or run away. Stand above a child (spouse, employee, customer) with your arms crossed, and you’re going to have a negative confrontation. Sit down near the person, and you will have a conversation. Sitting calms upset people.
This method works even with dogs. My golden retriever, Buddy, will hunt down tennis balls until he collapses. So, I must lead him inside to get a drink. If I stand in the kitchen, he will only lap up a couple drinks of water from his bowl. But the moment I sit, Buddy straddles the water bowl with his big paws and drinks away. He follows my lead. He knows that when I sit, I’m not going anywhere. He’s safe.
Over the course of a decade, we have had 1,500 children with special needs in our home. Most had trouble hearing directions, apparently. Some days I marched into the living room and yelled, “We are leaving for the pool in five minutes! I need everyone upstairs now! Put your swimsuit and suntan lotion on. Grab your towel. Come on, move it!” Guess what happened? They would start fighting each other over who got which bathroom—my anxiety created chaos in them. They moved more slowly.
So, here’s how I got all fifteen children ready in less than five minutes. I would put a beach towel around my neck and sit by the front door. Just sit there. One by one, they would see me and get changed. They knew exactly what to do. I didn’t have to tell them. And they would get ready and come sit next to me. Know why? Because when adults sit, it makes children feel safe. They know they aren’t going to get lectured, yelled at or in trouble.
And here’s the big insight: when you, mom or dad, yell and lose it emotionally, your children will not respect you. They will resist, negotiate, or dawdle, because they know they can manipulate you when you’re not in control of yourself. Or they will become outwardly obedient to mollify you but grow up with anger and resentment inside. When you are sitting, you are communicating that you are in control; you cannot be manipulated; you are not going to negotiate; you are going to follow through on your consequences; you are firm and authoritative. When you communicate these things, children respect you.
Know why I like this maneuver? Because it’s simple, I can do it anywhere, I don’t have to think in the moment, and because it works. It does. Do you yell, lecture, and lose control around your children? You probably learned that from your parents. Break that generational pattern now, so your children won’t grow up repeating the same behavior with their children.