TRANSCRIPT: Your Parenting Long Game Episode 107 – Stop “Future Thinking”

Welcome to Episode 107 of Your Parenting Long Game, where I’m going to take a deep dive into a strategy that can help you respond to situations more effectively and also worry less. You know, for so many of us, worry has been our middle (or first) name — especially since the pandemic began. And that makes sense because the human brain worries when things are unpredictable, when we feel out of control… when we don’t know how the future will be and whether we will be OK. 

And this is exactly why I want to talk to you about this tip today. I mentioned it briefly related to parenting in another episode that I’ll link to… but a lot of people told me they resonated with it, so I’m going to go into more detail now.

And by the way, if you enjoy these tips that I share, please rate and review and subscribe to this podcast. I really do appreciate the time you take to do this, and it helps me reach more parents with tips like these! 

So the tip I want to share today is to stop “future thinking”… more specifically, to stay in the moment rather than leaving the moment to predict what bad things could happen in the future if you don’t handle something a certain way right now. When our children have some negative behavior, moods, and attitudes, we travel quickly in our minds  to why this behavior is so bad because of how it will affect the future. When l work with parents, I sometimes ask, with curiosity, why they get so upset about their kids’ behavior. And almost inevitably the answer is, “well if this behavior doesn’t stop now, then…” and they have some prediction of the current behavior having dire consequences in the future. So I’ll ask a parent whose child first reaction to things is ‘no’ why that bothers them so much and they’ll say,  “If they always say no, and they’re always so negative, they won’t find the joy in life, they’ll avoid things, and they won’t be successful or happy in the future.” Or if I ask, “why does your child being so dramatic upset you so much?” they’ll say: “Well, if they keep getting so upset, people won’t want to be around them, they’ll be rejected, they’ll have no friends, etc..” We go into the future and all of the bad things that will happen. 

But here’s a message I want you to hear about future thinking: When we focus on the future, we’re missing out on the present. And we’re actually more likely to make the future we fear come true. On the other hand, and I’m going to say this slowly because it’s important: An accumulation of positive present moments will lead to a better future than trying to control the future. I’m going to say that one more time: An accumulation of positive present moments will lead to a better future than trying to control the future.

Here’s what I mean: Let’s use that example of a child’s whose answer to everything is “no.” So, you tell them to brush their teeth and they say no. What happens when we hear that? Well, we become angry and dig our heels in because we have to show them that they can’t just answer no; they HAVE TO brush their teeth. Because if they don’t, they’ll learn that they can get away with not brushing their teeth and they won’t ever brush their teeth and they’ll get cavities and they won’t ever listen and the house will be full of fighting… and on and on… So we insist that they have to, they insist that they won’t, and power struggles ensue. And then in the FUTURE they’ve learned they have to start with a strong position — THEY have to dig in strongly about NOT brushing their teeth from the outset — because they know we are going to insist that they brush their teeth. And power struggles continue. 

Or… Let’s say a child is melting down because they couldn’t find the right piece in a puzzle. You know it’s not a big deal and you worry about whether, if they’re so dramatic over small things, other kids will make fun of them, whether they’ll be able to handle life, whether they’ll be fragile forever and not be able to succeed in life. So you insist that they calm down and stop making a big deal over something so small. But then in the FUTURE when something doesn’t go their way, they’re even more upset because not only does not finding the right piece upset them, but they know that you’re going to be frustrated with them for getting upset, and that leads to more big feelings on their end and more dramatic behavior 

Here is the key: when we predict a negative future, we go into Yuck. And when we’re in Yuck and our fight-or-flight response has kicked in, we can’t think straight, their Yuck increases, and the combination of those two inevitably makes the situation worse… and makes kids more likely start off in a place of negativity in the future. 

But go back and imagine we do things differently. Let’s go back to that child who’s saying  “no” and instead of focusing on the future, you take the time to think about why they’re so resistant to brushing their teeth RIGHT NOW in that moment. Maybe they need a little bit of stimulation because they’re resisting the boring nature of the task. Maybe they need a little control and need to choose which sink they can use to brush their teeth. Or maybe they just hate the toothpaste flavor! (Recently a bunch of parents in my Parenting Academy were discussing that this was an obstacle for their children, and they only noticed when they paused to consider what was REALLY going on in the moment, rather than predicting the future.) 

Or in the other situation related to the drama of the piece of the puzzle not fitting. Imagine that instead of worrying about the impact of their meltdowns, you remind yourself that it isn’t the end of the world, that their behavior isn’t a threat and you’re able to stay regulated so that you can share your regulated energy with them and show them that you can show them that can handle their feelings, so they learn to handle their feelings. When we focus on the present moment instead of the future, our kids melt down less in the future because we’ve taught them that being uncomfortable is not the end of the world and that they can HANDLE frustration and disappointment because we’ve helped them handle it in the present moment. 

Remember: An accumulation of positive present moments will lead to a better future than trying to control the future.

How do you do this? Here are some quick tips to give your child what they need in the present instead of worrying about the future. 

Use your parenting avatar. I have an episode on your parenting avatar, but I will tell you right now that your Avatar allows you to respond with your values instead of your Yuck. It allows you to make the situation better instead of worse by deciding ahead of time how you want to respond to a situation. That way when you see the behavior, it’s no longer a threat, and you don’t focus on what’s going to happen in the future.
So if your child says “no,” you can think about: What response would align with your Avatar, your values, and help the situation go better in that moment?  Perhaps it’s not taking that “no” so personally, or not engaging with it and letting them travel the Yuck Curve, because you recognized that their “no” is just their Yuck response in that moment… and they just need to travel that Curve. 

Or if your child melts down, what response would make you feel good? What aligns with your Parenting Avatar? Perhaps it would be recognizing that their current meltdown does NOT mean they’ll never be able to handle life. It means that they’re struggling right now and that if you are there for them RIGHT NOW, they will learn to handle their feelings.
When you respond with your values, you’re giving your child NOW what they need to have a better future. 

Here’s another tip to prevent you from future thinking: If you want your kids to do something, but they’re not doing it, chances are that they need something in that moment. So my tip for you is to ask yourself: “What does my child need BEFORE then can [whatever your agenda is]? Ask yourself “What does my child need RIGHT NOW?”

So if your child is saying no when you ask them to brush their teeth, and your agenda is to get them to brush their teeth, ask yourself “what do they need BEFORE they can brush their teeth? What do they need (not what you need, but what they need) right now?” You need them to listen; they probably need something before they CAN listen. Because when you give children what they need in that moment, their future self is more likely to have better self esteem, feel safe, which leads to them acting more mature and responsible in the future.

Or if your child is melting down and your agenda is for them to stop, ask yourself, “what do they need BEFORE they can stop melting down?” This will allow you to get into their world with them and I will tell you that being there for your child when they are struggling WILL lead to a better future — one where they feel the world is safe, where they know they can handle their feelings, and where your relationship is stronger. 

Now of course this will all be hard to do if you are in Yuck yourself, so my last tip to stay present and not do future thinking  is to make sure you’re addressing your triggers. This is actually a topic I’m going to be addressing in my Parenting Academy this month because it’s one we all have to think about if we want to stop being controlled by our Yuck and we want to parent from our values. Because…  when we’re in Yuck — when our F or F response has kicked in — it’s very hard to be in the present. Our fight or flight response’s JOB is to think about what could go wrong in the future, and it prevents us from being present. But remember, responding from Yuck doesn’t help the situation. So you want to address the Yuck. I have an episode where I talk about how your past contributes to your Yuck and I’ll link to that, but I’ll also link to the Parenting Academy because we’ll be doing an event on this. (And if the event has passed, you’ll still be able to access the recording.) 

I want to wrap this up with one more example. I have a daughter whose throat gets sore when we’re in the car. A few weeks ago we were planning a long car ride, and she said, “Mom, my throat already hurts. I’m not even in the car, but my throat hurts.” She told me that just thinking about what was going to happen made her HURT in the moment when she didn’t even need to be. If she would have just focused on what she was doing in that moment instead of worrying about how things would go in the future, she probably wouldn’t have had a sore throat to begin with. Or, if she really was worried about something in the future (because she truly DOES get a sore throat), she could ask: “What do I need to do now?” And she could have grabbed a bottle of water to bring with her. Remember, focusing on what we need NOW makes for a better FUTURE. 

So if you want to take action: 

  • Remember that an accumulation of positive present moments will lead to a better future than trying to control the future.
  • Use your parenting avatar to decide how you want to act
  • Before insisting that they follow your agenda for all of the reasons you imagine are going to go poorly in the future, ask yourself instead,  “What do they need before they can [whatever I want them to do]?”
  • Make sure you address your Yuck so you’re able to consider all perspectives 

You will find that when you focus on the moment instead of the future, you will strengthen your relationship, their resilience, and things will go much better down the road. 

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