Fight or Flight – Parenting Choices

You may already be familiar with the term ‘Fight’ or ‘Flight’, but have you ever thought about how it affects your everyday life? How it affects your parenting? My aim in this blog is to give you more power over the decisions you have made as well as the confidence to make new decisions.

For those not familiar, the psychological concept founded by physiologist Walter Cannon suggests that when presented with a conflict or stress, your brain works to resolve it by retreating or diving right into the conflict. It’s part of our body’s primitive, automatic, inborn response. That conflict can be a life or death situation, it can be an argument with a partner, it can be trying to get your kids to sleep. Conflict/Stress is all around us. How we deal with that conflict is really important. However, I’ve kind of adapted this theory into the parenting realm.

Now I want to point out here that I’m not going to be saying what you should or shouldn’t be doing as parents. Instead, I’m trying to ask you to consider if your response is a ‘Fight’ or ‘Flight’ response to the given challenge in your parenting life? That way, your response is no longer automatic, it then becomes something you can control, can choose to do or not to do. I’m asking you to do this not so that you become critical of your responses but that you may be able to take control of them where you want to or where you’re feeling more capable.
Your ‘Fight’ or ‘Flight’ reaction to a situation may vary depending on how you feel on any given day. If you’re physically or emotionally tired at the time, if you’ve faced the same challenge a number of times before etc. these are the sort of factors that can make you react differently on the tenth time of facing a particular challenge. Personally, I find when my mental health is lower that I retreat and go into full blown ‘Flight’ mode.

So let’s look at the example of dealing with your kids not sleeping.
Everybody has a different method and approach to bed time. Some go with 7.30pm is bed time regardless, some wait for certain clue’s that the kids are ready to sleep. When they don’t sleep, as is the case for MANY kids, some choose controlled crying, some bring the kids in with them and some end up sleeping on the kids bedroom floor. Each of these have been tried in our house. Each with varying degrees of success.
So think about it. Is there a particular challenge or phase that you’re going through just now with any of your kids? If you think about it right now can you tell if the route you’re going down is one of ‘Fight’ or ‘Flight’?In our household the choice to use controlled crying was most definitely a ‘fight’ response as we were determined to break this pattern of poor sleeping behaviour of our kids. However, in another household this method is used as a ‘Flight’ response as some parents feel that they need to walk away, but in a controlled way.
For me just now the challenge is most definitely one of sleep, or lack thereof. My daughter has hit something called the 18 month sleep regression stage… yep that exists. She likes to go to sleep at what would be a normal time and wake up an hour or two later like a freshly charged phone ready to go. Brightness on full, data on, and full VOLUME! It can last for hours and there’s no telling when she’ll crash.
4 weeks into this phase and we’ve tried it all. The lack of sleep on our behalf has probably had me more in the fight mode for some time as I’ve been desperate to overcome this phase and get her into a good sleep habit. So for longer than was probably necessary I fought her every night, begged and pleaded at times for her to sleep (can you tell who was winning the fight?). But after a while I could see that I was fighting a losing battle over and over again. So I made the ‘Flight’ decision to retreat, to think about it more rather than battling her to sleep. To look things up online and see who else, if anyone else might be experiencing this.

Both the ‘Fight’ and the ‘Flight’ responses are based on self preservation, so how you react on a given day can be affected by many things. Neither one is worse than the other. Like I said earlier, If you’re able to recognise what type of response you are in you can then choose to follow through with it or to turn and go the other direction. Both types of response have their benefits and downsides
Benefit of Fight
The benefit is that you feel in control of the given situation. You’ve made this decision in order to overcome the challenge. You are determined to win the fight and work hard for it. You may be able to overcome the challenge quicker but it may also be more emotionally draining.
Downsides of Fight
It’s just that… it’s a fight. There is resistance and its hard. It’s not fun being stern or authoritative with your kids. It puts you in a position where you may feel it creates further conflict ‘won the battle but not the war’ type of situation. Judgement can be clouded and there may be more anger or frustration in the decision making or action.
Benefit of Flight
You may be able to to come at the situation more clear headed. You can analyse from afar the situation and make a clear decision or plan on how to tackle the issue. You can take your time to approach it too. There is actually more control than the ‘fight’ response even if you don’t feel that way. Whatever the challenge is, it might pass as often things are just wee phases.
Downside of Flight
You might feel as though you lost or failed even though you made the decision you thought was right. It can take longer to overcome a challenge. You could end up worrying what others think of your choices.
So bearing in mind that there are positives and negative aspects to either response, there is no need to feel bad about a ‘Fight’ or ‘Flight’ response. However, by taking a moment to consider what your response is to the challenge you’re facing you can take a higher level of control. You got this!

Are you currently facing a challenge? Have you overcome recent challenges? Has this article helped you in any way? If so please leave a comment below or share this with others you think might find it helpful via the link buttons and remember to follow @dadsapp on Twitter and Facebook

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