How we all make sense of things and create meaning from our experiences depends on our state of mind. As parents, our state of mind importantly affects how we create the meanings tied to the behaviors exhibited by our children. Specifically, it’s important to notice whether your parenting state of mind is open, defensive, or frozen in fear.

When children’s behaviors are off balance, if you have an open mind, you might think, “What is going on here? My child is telling me something through word or deed. What is he trying to convey?”

If you are in a fight-or-flight state of mind, you may create a meaning that is mobilized by defensiveness: “My child is being disrespectful. I need to draw a line and show her that I’m the boss here!”

If you are frozen in fear, you may not know what to do: “Oh, no! There’s nothing I can do.”

Often, the meaning we create determines the action we take, and the action we take affects the meaning we make. This circular dynamic also affects our relationship with our children.

If you are used to making sense of children’s behaviors from a defensive or fearful state of mind, it will help to slow down so your brain has time to construct a more useful meaning. When your brain is functioning defensively and detects “possible threat ahead,” it does so in just 100 milliseconds. This means that taking more time to make sense of your child’s behavior could require only 300 to 500 milliseconds. Shift your focus to the relationship you have and want with your child as you take a few more milliseconds to recognize and understand what your child’s behaviors mean.