• Dr Julie


A majority of our thoughts and actions are automatic. They are patterns that have been engrained over time, and changing them requires repeated, intentional effort.

We can change these behaviors and actually greatly improve our relationship with our children and others in our lives.

The first step is to Mirror. Taking time to really look at our actions and reactions while determining what triggers these behaviors is important. This process can be difficult as no one wants to be made aware of their own unpleasant behavior. However, it’s the first step toward making lasting change.

For example, I realized in my own life, as many parents of tweens & teens experience, our ride home from school each day could go from quite pleasant to contentious in a matter of seconds. Fridays seemed better than most days. Was this just due to the joy of surviving another exhausting week? I intended to investigate and get answers. I set my phone to record the exchange between my daughter and me for several days and realized that I asked her the same thing every single day. It was just a patten I developed over time. The first thing I would say to my daughter when she got into the car was “How was your day” in a routine way. Followed as soon as she responded by, “How much homework do you have?” The minute she left school, I was bringing to the forefront of her mind that she had even more work to do. I would tell any other parent that our children need a break to decompress after the school day before turning attention to starting homework. The manager in me wanted to get the details necessary to make a plan for the rest of the day. Once I discovered this potentially pressure inducing pattern, I viewed our often unpleasant rides home from a different perspective.

The second step is to Modify. Once we become aware of behaviors that aren’t serving us or our children in a positive way, changing these is next. This requires more than deciding to make a change. Our patterns have been engrained often for much of our lives and are executed automatically without our knowledge. Old patterns that aren’t serving us need to be replaced with new patterns that do. I re-automated to follow up how was your day with, “Anything exciting or surprising happen today?” No I did not desire to say something different and it magically happened! I put a reminder to pop up on my phone for 30 minutes prior to pick up that said, “Anything exciting?” This could be a post it or other method to consciously focus on a new approach. This new phrase was met with an enthusiastic or begrudging, (depending on her middle school mood), launch into a story of some sort. It revealed her frame of mind and allowed reconnection before getting back to the business of homework. She usually asked about my day as well, which was rarely as interesting as hers, but it was nice to have the pleasant dialogue!

The third step is to Model. After putting a plan into place to modify bad patterns, we have the opportunity to share with our children the process we went through to improve. Research consistently supports that we are our children’s most powerful role models. The fact that we have the awareness to look at and change our own behaviors displays a personal responsibility that youth desperately need to gain to experience success in their own lives. Sharing that we noticed something about ourselves and took the initiative to change it, helps them see us as flawed, human and vulnerable. This can go a long way as youth often report not wanting to disappoint parents who expect them to be close to perfect. Even if they don’t enthusiastically congratulate us or express understanding, the seeds are planted for them to consider this valuable behavior.

According to cognitive neuroscientists, 80-95% of our decisions, actions, emotions, and behavior depends on our automated behaviors beyond our immediate awareness. Practicing the 3M’s can help us all raise our parenting to another level, improving our relationships and development of our children.

What thoughts do you have related to the 3Ms? Share your experiences to help us all gain perspective. I look forward to hearing how you relate or suggestions you have so that we can continue improving for our children!

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© 2020 Dr. Julie Flad Leto

Julie Flad Leto

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