If you are a lawyer, you may be the kind of person who doesn’t back down from a fight. I am such a lawyer and not just because I am a litigator. Rather, I think I was drawn to litigation because I am one of the most pigheaded and stubborn people to ever walk the earth. I have to qualify this claim, of course, because I now have children. Having shared my genes with them, I also shared my stubbornness.
My six-year-old, in particular, will fight me about literally everything. She will fight about putting on her shoes, or eating her dinner, or going to bed, or brushing her teeth. She will cry and scream and yell and just become a general nightmare of a human being. Even worse, the more you try to encourage her to remain calm and make good choices, the angrier she gets.
As a lawyer, it’s not like I am not accustomed to outbursts of this nature. Of course, I have seen uncalled for and unjustified outbursts. Of course I have learned how to stay calm and not always react. Still, there is no way around the fact that it is exhausting and frustrating to have every request of the person you are trying to care for and raise into a responsible, productive citizen greeted with a tantrum.
So, what can you do? This is where the lawyer part of my brain had to learn to relax and let the meditation teacher part take over. The lawyer part of my brain wants to establish rules, monitor for compliance, and take immediate action to achieve my objective. I tried this lots of times and the meditation teacher part of my brain watched, smirked, and said “how’s that working out for you?” Eventually, the lawyer part of my brain got disgusted when her reasonable requests devolved into arguments and yelling and told the meditation teacher part “I’m done. You give it a shot.”
What did meditation teacher brain come up with? She told me to use available tools and leave a space. In a stroke of genius one day when my beautiful, darling girl was transformed into a vicious troll when I asked her to finish up her lunch instead of running around the kitchen, I heard myself say “I’m going to set a timer on my watch for 5 minutes. I want you to finish your lunch. I am not going to fight with you or say anything else. But if your lunch is not finished in that time there will be consequences.”
Now, the lawyer brain was shocked when I said this. She was like, “are you kidding me? That will never work. She’s already had 30 minutes to eat. What good will another 5 do?” At first, it seemed like she was right. My little one raged and cried and complained for about 30 seconds. Meditation teacher me sat like patience on a monument and said nothing. She just watched. Then, without prompting and almost as if by magic, the little one stopped complaining, sat down, ate, and even cleaned up her plate by herself. Lawyer brain and meditation teacher brain joined in unison to tell her good job.
Maybe you are thinking that this is just a fluke. At first, I thought so too. But my study has been tried and tested and replicated. The pattern is always the same: I give a command, my child resists, I set a timer and reiterate my command, she resists even harder, I don’t react, and she complies. The pattern is so predictable that I can actually laugh a little to myself while the comedy unfolds. She hates the timer, but it works so well and the irony is now just part of the fun.
So why does this work? Because my little one is not a bad girl. Despite all outward appearances, she’s not even trying to drive me crazy. Instead, she’s just got big emotions and big reactions and wants to do things her way. Go figure. She’s my child. I want things to go my way too. I, too, have big emotions and big reactions. So, when we both have them at the same time in opposite directions, it just leads to a fight.
As much as my daughter claims to hate it, the timer on my watch is good for both of us because it creates a space. This space lets her have her reaction without interruption or prompting from me to focus on the goal. Once she’s reacted and gotten it out of her system, she can focus again and do what she needs to do.
Let’s be honest here. Who isn’t like this? Who doesn’t occasionally need the chance just to say “ugh!” while raising one’s hands to the sky in frustration before they accomplish a task they don’t like? We all need this sometimes. To allow for it, the best thing we can do is pause to create a safe space for it to happen. Thankfully, the handy little timer on my Apple Watch is there to help me take a pause when dealing with my stubborn girl.
Has mindfulness helped you with your kids? Leave us a comment to tell us how.
Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available now.
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