Parenting Using the C.O.D.E
Compassion – Observe – Determine – Empathize
2 years ago, in late October, my 5-year-old son was throwing a tantrum regarding something I can’t even recall. As parents, we asked him to sit on the porch and calm down. He proceeded to take all 6 recently-carved pumpkins and smash them on the cement steps.
My immediate emotions were fury and anger. My instinctive brain wanted to snap and punish him more; to yell and lash out for the defiance and destruction of others’ pumpkins they worked so hard to carve. I felt like the Alpha Male in me needed to take back control! Perhaps in the past, I would have reacted in such fashion.
After years of experience, not only as a parent of 6 children but also as a therapist, I was able to take a breath and remind myself of the “CODE.” The CODE is an acronym I developed 3 years ago in helping cope with critical moments of parenting and relationships. My son smashing pumpkins is such a moment. CODE: Compassion. Observe. Determine. Empathize.
C.O.D.E. For Parents
After counting to 20 and taking a few deep breaths, I hugged my son as he sobbed and screamed in his anger and I said,
“I am so sorry you are feeling angry right now. It must be really hard.”
He screamed something unintelligible and said some “mean things” to try and get a negative reaction from me.
I then said,
“Wow! What happened to those pumpkins?”
Of course, I already knew what happened but I wanted my son to be able to feel safety in communicating. He stated,
“I killed them!”
Admittedly, I had to use effort not to laugh at that point. I responded (still in compassion),
“Wow they must be really sad, huh buddy?”
“Yah, they were stupid anyways!”
I still had my arm around his shoulder in safe human contact and connection.
I then said,
“What do you think we should do?”
“I don’t knoooowwwwww! I’m just a bad boy. I’m an idiot! I’m in big trouble, huh?!”
“Hmmmm, we have some broken pumpkins and I can see you are really sad.”
He had somewhat calmed down with the reduced fear and threat because I had chosen not to react negatively to negativity. After some gentle suggestions, he talked about how he wanted to fix the pumpkins.
“Thank you for talking to me buddy. I have had hard times like these when I get angry. I’m so glad we can talk about it!”
We went to the store the next day and picked up new pumpkins and re-carved them. He apologized to each of his siblings.
I have had more than my share of moments where I didn’t react like this example. Those moments are when we apologize and re-engage with our kids to model humility and conflict resolution.
“I’m so sorry I reacted the way I did. That was about my own anger, not about your behavior. I should have reacted differently. I would like to try again.”
When using the CODE, the purpose is to resolve conflict with a connection. A general rule is to put consequences on the back burner, temporarily, while we run through the CODE. Sometimes it can take a day or 2 as issues become bigger or more significant.
When we lead with consequences, we immediately disconnect.
When we lead with compassion and empathy, we amplify connection, leading to change and healing over time.
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