Homework time: Reacting to upset kids
Think about when your child gets upset. Never a happy moment for any parent, I’m sure. Sometimes, they get so worked up before you can even think to react – let alone react in the ‘proper’ way – and before you know it, they are beyond upset, and inconsolable and you have a knot in your stomach. Threats and/bribes ensue, and … things just spiral downwards from there. Not a finer parenting moment, right?
Let’s try this a different way. You have some work to do beforehand, though. Consider this a homework activity. For the next time your child gets upset, ask yourself this question: ‘How do I like to be treated when I am upset?’ Take a few minutes and think about your response. It might actually be helpful if you actually take the time to write this down. Think about responses to these questions: Would I like it if my spouse or boss lectured me, yelled at me, or told me to get over it because it’s no big deal? Or demanded that I just calm down? How would I respond to someone telling me to ‘Stop it’?
I don’t think any of you can respond to these questions that in this situation, you would have calmed down, and become reasonable. Yet this is exactly what we are expecting our children to do. Children who we KNOW are less reasonable and rational than we are. So. We have the time now to come up with a more positive response to the next inevitable tantrum. Your kids need you to LEAD them to a calm place. Can you do that?
I can’t tell you what your kids are going to need. I can only tell you that you know your child(ren) best, and know what they might need. Every child is different. I can tell you about some things that I know work for my kids. I can also tell you that taking the time now to script this out, think this through, read and practice this, will definitely help you when the time comes.
What works for me? One of my kids is on an emotional roller coaster. He can and does fly off the handle on a regular basis for the smallest infraction. He gets so angry, so worked up, so emotional that nothing can fix the situation. Except a hug. And let me tell you, more often than not, the very last thing in the world I want to do is give him a hug. But I also know that if I don’t, then the tantrum is never going to end. And just like faking a smile, faking a huge more often than not turns into a genuine act of affection. I can actually feel the anger and tension leave his little body and he will be infinitely more rational. Together we can solve the problem/dilemma.
Another of my children is very rational, but also thinks that he should be the one that wins every game, regardless of how many are playing and how skilled they may be. The same theory applies for all situations, not just games. What works for him when he flies off the handle? Rational talk. He is a problem solver, and when we put our heads together and talk it out, he pulls himself out his misery and helps to figure it out. He appreciates that I talk to him like an adult (sort of) and let him take part in figuring out the solution. Involving him makes his understand that I value his thoughts and input. He feels appreciated. That’s half the battle.
My youngest needs to have his feelings validated. He doesn’t need me to fix it, or punish the wrong-doer. He just needs me to listen, really really listen, and sympathize and validate his feelings. When I listen to his gripes, I give him a sense of importance. He knows that he can trust me to listen, and to always be there when he needs me.
And you know what else? A well-placed band-aid can be a really useful remedy tool, too.