I closed the door to our bedroom, tip-toed to the far side of the bed and sat down quietly on the floor. From the living room, I could hear my four-year-old daughter screeching at me to come help her with her computer game.

Here I was, the parent who so attentively responded to her cries when she was an infant, the mother who gently led her through the wilds of toddlerhood, the person who has written more than once on positive, proactive parenting—literally hiding from my preschooler and her constant crankiness.

It was not my finest moment.

We’ve been going through a rough patch lately, and I know this season is universal to the experience of parenting. It’s easy to get caught in a frustrating cycle: the more she pushes, the more I pull back.

A few weeks ago, I had a bit of an epiphany when my father’s advice about navigating hazardous road conditions began to ring in my ears: “You’ve got to steer into the skid.”

Photo by Mish Bradley

When your child goes through a difficult phase, it’s challenging for even the most dedicated of positive parents to stay the course. It’s easy to implement all we know about healthy, proactive parenting when the sun is shining and the flowers are blooming, but when the road is covered in ice and you just can’t seem to get any traction anywhere, well, it’s easy to spin out.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that much of the advice given to drivers navigating hazardous road conditions actually speaks quite perfectly to parents who are navigating the precarious parts of parenting that are inevitable in the life of every family.

Avoid going too fast.

Driving experts say that most icy road collisions could be avoided if drivers just slowed down. When I thought about when this difficult phase with my preschooler began, I realized it coincided with increased busyness in my life. As my book’s big deadline neared, I found myself flying past my daughter with a kiss on her forehead and “I sure love you!”, but little else in the way of true connection.

Kids are more sensitive to changes in pace than we are, and a sudden plunge into misbehavior may be a warning signal that as a parent or as a family, things are moving too fast.

Leave plenty of space.

Photo by Tony the Misfit

It’s pivotal to leave enough space between your car and the others when roads are dicey. When parenting a child through a rough patch, the same idea holds true: it’s pivotal to make space for them.

When my child pushes me with her bad behavior choices, my natural instinct is to pull back and cut her off. But as a positive parent, I know that disruptive behavior is often an indicator of a disconnect between the parent and child.

The tricky part is putting that theory into practice and intentionally creating meaningful, dedicated space where she and I can genuinely connect.

Anticipate problem spots.

My friend Laura and her family recently road tripped from Indiana to Oklahoma to hang out with our family for a few days. We were amused by their curiosity about the “Do Not Drive Into Smoke” caution signs that mark certain stretches of Oklahoma highways. Grassfires are a common event in our state, and motorists are warned repeatedly not to drive into smoke that may have engulfed the road.

I’m guessing that the highway departments of each state have put time and money into signaling potential problem areas to drivers, be it smoke, ice, construction, curves, or blind spots. As parents, we are uniquely equipped to anticipate the problem spots that trigger chancy conditions with our children.

For example, it’s difficult to take my daughter to the grocery store this time of the year. Toys and glittery lights and sugar-laden treats on every aisle practically guarantee a serious case of can-I-have-this-itis. I’ve learned to navigate this problem spot by either going to the store solo, or by reinforcing boundaries and expectations beforehand.

Steer into the skid

Photo by KSDigital

When a car goes into a skid, the natural impulse is to jerk the wheel. We want to resist the scary loss of control and oftentimes over-correct, which is just as dangerous. And isn’t that the case with parenting? Correcting behavior issues is important of course, but in the midst of a troubled phase, sometimes the best approach really is to turn loose of the resistance and intentionally steer into the skid.

What does this look like in action? Find ways to re-establish the connection with your child. Pursue physical connection with more hugs, snuggles, and cuddles. Invite emotional connection by being purposeful with eye contact and authentic conversation. Develop spiritual connection by engaging in activities that allow your child’s spirit to soar.

As I’ve confessed to you, no one knows more than I do that sometimes it feels easier to hide. And to be honest, sometimes I need a Mommy Time-In before I’m equipped to parent through perilous parenting moments.

But once I am centered and re-focused on helping my child navigate her big feelings, I’m better able to the healthy and helpful parent she needs.

We can talk about positive parenting all we want, but until our philosophies have been tested by the stormy weather of difficult childhood phases, it’s all just talk. Putting positive parenting to the test when it would be easier to hide, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road.

What is your go-to strategy when your children are going through a difficult phase? What specific examples can you share about what steering into the skid looks like as you parent your little ones?