Having a child who always wants their way and where it seems that every request is met with defiance and a meltdown is really challenging. I know it can feel like your child is doing things intentionally to push your buttons and “wind you up”.
When my daughter was younger, before I understood what was really happening, I felt guilty, as if my daughter’s meltdowns were a direct link to my parenting. I felt embarrassed, judged by my family and friends and angry that I had to deal with tantrums on an everyday basis. Truthfully, I felt out of control.
The thing I didn’t realise at the time was my daughter was feeling exactly same things that I was. She didn’t want to be having a tantrum and she was feeling just as out of control..
We are so used to seeing behaviour as ‘good’ or ‘bad’
But behaviour in our children is neither ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ All of our child’s behaviour is an expression of their thoughts and feelings.
Some emotions are positive. Think of what behaviour you and your child show when you are feeling: happy, joyful, curious, excited, delighted, thrilled, in awe, proud, loving… These positive emotions feel good and often we like the behaviour we see in ourselves and our children.
Now, think of what behaviour you and your child show when you are feeling negative emotions, like: sadness, annoyed, overwhelmed, unlovable, scared, hopeless, helpless, ashamed, angry, anxious, lonely, jealous, self-critical, useless, fearful, unacceptable. These negative emotions don’t feel good and often we don’t like the behaviour we see in ourselves and our children.
Negative emotions are impossible to avoid, they are part of the human experience. As much as we would love our children to be able to use their words and control their behaviour when feeling big emotions, it is not in their brain capacity to do so without our loving guidance. Just to say, we often don’t show our best behaviour when overwhelmed with big emotions either.
The ability to calm down, practice self-control and communicate their needs calmly only matures through social and emotional development. It is these skills that enable your child to stop having tantrums.
We need to stop telling parents to ignore the ‘bad’ and praise the ‘good’ Imagine how dreadful it must feel to be so out of control and have the person you love and trust most in the world completely ignore you when you really need them.
When we limit our child’s feelings, (not to be confused with limiting behaviour we don’t like) We train our children to stop listening to their emotions and to stop coming to us with their problems. In short, we teach them to stuff down their emotions by sending a very clear message that negative emotions are something bad and something they need to face alone.
– No wonder so many of us have a hard time sharing our emotions and asking for help when we’re struggling, if we too have been ignored as a child for having had negative emotions.
The definition of a tantrum is uncontrollable outburst of anger and frustration. We need to STOP look at tantrums as a choice and that our child is choosing to act this way. Of course, we would use the model of “Doing to” our child if we thought this way, because we think she needs motivation or a deterrent to stop her tantrums. So, by using punishments to control her behaviour, by taking favourite toys away, by stopping her doing things she loves or by talking to her and telling her off, we think that she would be motivated enough to change her ways. – but how wrong we are.
Your child doesn’t NEED motivation or a deterrent to change her ways, she already WANTS to calm down, She WANTS to stop crying and tantruming, but she doesn’t think she can.
Imagine how frustrating that is for your child to WANT to do what you ask but feels unable to. They actually want the same thing, to feel calm, but they think it’s impossible for them. That’s downright scary!
(Often, it’s these children that are told off, punished and blamed, no wonder they give up trying to calm down!)
Nothing helps you feel more understood and cared for than the support of someone who loves you for who you are. When your child feels heard and validated, they are primed to want to listen to you and you are primed to offer loving guidance and support.
The purpose of validation is to understand your child’s perspective so they can start to open up to your guidance.
The CONNECTION step is so important, you can often see your child move from “out-of-control” behaviour straight into sadness, acceptance of your boundary and right into your arms for comfort.
The purpose of offering things the child CAN DO is to help the child find a way to meet their own need for experience, power or connection.
Behind ALL behaviour is a valid need for connection, experience and power.
The three basic needs for growth
- EXPERIENCE: Mastery of the physical body through experiential and sensory exploration
- CONNECTION: Feeling noticed, understood, validated, loved and sense of importance and belonging
- POWER: Feeling confident, in control of self, able to make an impact on the world.
In focusing your attention in supporting your child to meet their needs within your boundary helps you gain willing cooperation and helps your child gain problem-solving skills and self-control.
The purpose of pointing out your child’s STRENGTHs is to help your child see their greatness and gain confidence in their abilities.
As a parent shifting from fixing and controlling to understanding is not easy. It can go against our instincts about what we think we SHOULD be doing. However, our true role is to help our child feel more in control of herself and in turn manage her own behaviour.
So, your role as a parent is to prove to them that they can.
When it comes to all behaviours we don’t like, tantrums, hitting, kicking biting… our kids always want the right things (meeting their needs). It’s them not seeing the possibility of a better way that trips them up. They just don’t see another how… Proving to them that it’s possible changes their actions and puts them back in charge of themselves.
That’s where YOU come in. To become their coach, rooting for them, supporting them and watching them transform before your eyes.
One simple shift helps kids learn how to calm themselves down, so you no longer need to do it for them.
Instead of focusing your attention on the fact your child had a tantrum, by telling them off, ignoring them or bribing them to not have a tantrum in the first place. All proof to your child that they CAN’T calm down.
I want you to focus your attention to the fact that your child DID calm down. Yes, it might have been a twenty-minute scream fest this time. BUT your child is learning what it is to calm down. And with your coaching, step by step you’ll watch your child going from a full-blown tantrum, to stomping their feet, to huffing and puffing to being able to control their behaviour.
We are so used to judging behaviour as either right or wrong. By learning to look at behaviour with fresh eyes, you will see these small steps move you all in the right direction and that actually your child is beginning to practice self-control and what she needs to calm down. She is DOING IT. She knows what she needs to calm herself and handle her emotions.
How validating for your child to hear that you “get” how hard it is for them to calm down. That you know they are trying their hardest and that you are noticing their STRENGTHs and successes.
Here are a few examples from the Language of Listening® framework to get you going:
“You got all upset, you really want to go to the park.” Wait for your child to calm down and then point out her STRENGTH “AND you calm down. You did it! That shows self-control.”
“You know just what you needed to calm down.”
“You’re stomping your feet to show me just how mad you are, you know how to get all your mad out. You know what you need and keep everyone safe.”
“You are SO mad right now! You love playing with the cat AND grabbing her like that is NOT OK with me. Hmm must be something you CAN DO to be playful.” Then wait for your child to calm down or find a solution, you can then point out her STRENGTHs. “Looks like you found a way to make it work and you calmed down, that shows what a problem solver you are.”
“You are so mad at your brother, AND hitting hurts. There must be another way for you to tell him.”
“You are so frustrated! You want cake, AND there’s no cake today. You can be upset AND kicking me is NOT OK with me. You can kick this pillow.”
Do you want more examples of just what to say to gain willing cooperation? Check out my free eCourse. I’ll take you from wild kids to listeners’ in a few days. Click here to sign up
Why this works
Your child’s behaviour is guided by her STRENGTHs, (the ones you just pointed out to her) This is what impacts her future behaviour and shows her that she CAN calm down and manage her self-control.
How you respond to her tantrums shows her that you have faith in her abilities, you believe in her and you are there to support her.
You’re setting yourself up for years of tantrum trouble if they end with you child thinking of herself as ruining the day and that her behaviour is naughty or unacceptable. That becomes her inner voice and her future actions are based on that belief about herself.
When you learn how to point out your child’s STRENGTHs, then you’re setting your child up for success. She gets to have the inner voice of “Yes, I did calm down, I did it! I felt all yucky, I behaved in a way I didn’t like, but I’m still loveable. I do know what I need to calm down and get my emotions out.”
The Language of Listening® framework gives you the tools to coach your child to find their own solutions and control their own behaviour within your boundaries. It’s the key to getting you the behaviour you like, waving goodbye to the tantrums while bringing out your child’s inner strength and self-control. How much easier and not to mention more enjoyable is that?