Have you ever heard of the “Stoplight Method” of parenting? No? Good. Because I just thought of it.
If you are a parent of multiple children, all of whom have unique and strong personalities, you know that this can make for challenging days, months and lets be real here, even years. The parenting methods, either offered to you as advice from well-meaning friends or the ones that you have read about in parenting self-help books, don’t always work. Or maybe a method or technique works for one of your children, but not for all. Well, I have found a method that does work for all three of mine, as well as myself, and I have coined it the “Stoplight Method”.
When you see a stop light, you can expect it to show you one of three colors –green, yellow or red. When you see each color, you react appropriately, or at least you should. At green, we go; at yellow we slow down; at red we stop. This is pretty standard and as a result the stoplight method is nothing genius or anything close to that. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. The stoplight method is just you, as the parent, basically using your common sense.
So, what if I told you that I want you to look at yourself and your child like you are stoplights? Yes, that is what I am telling you to do. Seems silly, but it is not, so stick with me here.
The stoplight method is best understood this way:
If you or your child is seeing RED this means that you or they are experiencing negative feelings similar to that of anger, frustration, exasperation (the list goes on).
As that parent seeing RED, you will need to suddenly STOP yourself from impulsively reacting based on your negative feeling(s). As the parent seeing your child see RED, you will need to again STOP yourself from impulsively reacting and or chastising them for their negative feeling(s). Additionally, you will also need to help them go from RED to at least yellow, if not green.
If you are seeing YELLOW, then that means that you are on the brink of a negative feeling; not quite there, but almost. Same for your child. When they are on yellow, they may be holding it together, by a thread, but they have not gone red yet. When either you or your child is in the YELLOW zone, proceed with caution. For most adults, we can recognize when we are stressed and when we are close to a meltdown. For us, the stoplight method instructs us to, physically and mentally, slow the heck down. Take a talking break for two minutes, step outside for thirty seconds, enjoy the privacy of the bathroom for a minute. The point is, when you are yellow, you still have the capability of staying calm, but it is a voluntary and interactive choice you have to make — it surely won’t just happen for you.
When you see that your child is YELLOW, this means that they are not yet at the point of a tantrum or meltdown, but that you are completely convinced that one is on the horizon. Again, the goal with anyone in the yellow zone, is to keep them from going red. How do you do that with a child? Distraction is one way that typical proves to be successful. Another way is to discuss how they are feeling, although with some children, this can make things worse. You will have to see what calming techniques work best for your child and be sure to have a notebook, stress ball, favorite stuffed animal — whatever it is, with you and on hand.
When you and your child are seeing GREEN, this is wonderful! Both being on green should be your parenting goal each day. When you feel GREEN yourself or you see your child being GREEN, go for it all. Make that moment amazing and take the time to connect with your child.
Of importance when using the stoplight method, is to be able to establish what you and your child’s known triggers are for “going red”. You will also have to, over time, recognize what your and your child’s symptoms (for lack of a better term) are when you go red. What are the things you notice about yourself when you are going red? Is it that you breath heavier, do you start to feel hot, do you use your hands a lot when you talk? What about for your child — if they start to roll their eyes or clench their fists, or start sweating, — is that your cue that they are turning red?
Although I hope that you are not, you may be thinking that this is a silly article because well, I am not teaching you or telling you anything that you don’t already know. But, you know what? It is so easy during the day-to-day craziness of parenting, to forget our common sense. I lose mine multiple times a day. But, now, having an image of a stoplight in my mind to associate with myself and my children and our feelings and interactions, it is so helpful to me. It is so easy to get lost in the challenges of the day and struggle to find ways and reasons to remain calm. The stoplight method is your reminder.
Children also do well with image examples. Teaching them to think of oneself like a stoplight will give them the visual aid to help them understand their feelings, as well as responding to the feelings of others. With this tool, upon recognizing one of his symptoms or knowing that we are approaching one of his triggers, I can ask my son, “What color are you right now?” Your child may even enjoy asking you, when they pick up on your tenseness “Mom, are you red right now? Surely my child saying this to me, would likely have the effect, on its own, of bringing me out of the red zone.
So maybe the method I have described here is nothing new and is just more of the same old jargon, just called something else. But, you know what? It works for my family and that is all each of us can do as parents — to find out what works for you, your child and your family and implement that.
Do you like my method? Do you have other methods that you use? Please share them!