Parents often ask if I can help with behavioural issues and I would like to share some information with you that may help you to tune in and connect better with your child. I am often asked “What’s the best way to deal with anger or tantrums,my answer is it depends if its an upstairs or downstairs tantrum, one is a lack of regulation and the other is a I am doing this to get what I want tantrum?”
Don’t ignore bad behaviour
Many say they just ignore the behaviour because they don’t want to give attention to negative behaviours or it gets punished. Ignoring a child will never work they generally will just try harder to get your attention. Sending them to their room will not help either, they need your attention and your help to manage the big emotions. Punishing or sending children away will give a clear message that I only want you when you are good and anger is bad. Children need your acceptance regardless of the behaviours.
Bothpunishing or ignoring will make things worse as your child struggles to manage big emotions they may move from anger to sadness and hurt because you’re not getting them or listening. It’s a very sad, lonely place when your adult doesn’t get you and can’t help you. Where do you go and what do you dowhen there is nobody to help you? Anger may esculate and spiral further out of control.
Children need you to help them calm down
You are their adult and they need you to manage the big emotions, if you are struggling to manage your own emotions then get some support as without it things are likely to get worse and relationships break down. (If you don't like your child its time to get some support) Your child will calm down better with your help than left on their own. They may not just be angry they may be upset too so staying with them if you can is so vital. I would only suggest leaving if you felt you needed to keep yourself safe from violence. If you didn't have an emotionally available parent growing up or have experienced trauma then it may be harder to manage childrens feelings.
Beware of critical language & Labels
Many may use the words attention seeking or manipulative behaviour but I think they are both negative labels for what is just behaviour we may not like. All children will need an attachment to an adult who can help them feel safe. Children don’t have the vocabulary or skills to tell you they are struggling to manage disappointment or fear, they just flip into rage quite quickly and may scream your house down. The survival brain works at 50 millionth of a second so little point expecting things to change without a lot of work to build new skills and pathways in the brain. With some help children can learn to use their whole brain and think for themselves.
Punishments create fear not thinking for yourself
We may want to punish children and make them do time out to help them learn but this does more harm and won’t help them learn. Punishments just help them to be afraid, they may lie or become frightened to make mistakes. If we want chidlren to make good choices we want then to use their thinking brain and we want them to do things because its the right thing to do not because they will get told off or punished. Building resilience and helping chidlren to manage their emotions is key to long term mental health in later life.
They are struggling not naughty
Children who are struggling will need more of you than less of you. The challenging behaviour may leave you wanting to push them away but try not to. If we can understand what a child needs we are more likely to meet their emotional needs and the behaviour settles down. This applies to clingy children too, forcing them further away won’t help them build confidence it will make them cling harder, we need to restore safety first before they can explore the world and need less of you.
I don’t want to be my parent
It will be hard to not be critical or punishing and to view this behaviour with new eyes, particularly if your parents were critical and punishing. We may want to parent differently to how we were parented but when the going gets tough we may turn into the shouty parent we hated. Those patterns are so ingrained they can be hard to change but with a lot of work it is possible to parent with kindness and compassion rather than punishments. Self care for parents is essential, if you are tired or overwhelmed you won't be as emotionally available for your child. If you want a better relationship with your child then you may have to examine your relationship with yourself first.
They are doing it on purpose!
Behaviour is not purposeful, children are not choosing to be naughty to get a reaction from you, often they are simply struggling. They don't want to be told off or disappoint you, no child wants to be told off sent to their room or ignored. They want to please you and they need you, they just don’t have the skills yet to be able to do all the things you may ask of them. Daniel Siegel states. “We expect a lot children who may not yet have learnt to tie their shoe laces”. The brain is still developing and children will need a lot of supervision and routine to learn new habbits. You can't just tell them once and expect them to get it.
Dealing with Anger
Tantrums happen when children can’t manage their big feelings and the survival brain flips them into fight or flight mode. They become wobbly and may scream and shout at you, they are not using much of their thinking brain when this happens. It’s very hard but important for you to not turn into a five year old and shout back. They need you to show them what to do do and how to handle these big emotions. If you know what to do they will feel much more safer and settle down much quicker.
Some simple steps that will help your little or big one to manage their big feelings:-
Name it to tame it..
Hear the feelings and if you can label them.. Wow I can see you’re really angry frustrated or upset about this. If you struggle with the feelings yourself try “Wow I can see there are some big feelings going on here”. The minute we start to talk feelings they tend to settle down as the child feels heard. They also learn the names of the feelings and that they are ok to have and will go away and they are not bad for having them.
Engage don’t enrage.
There is little point in asking a child to calm down if they could do this they would not be angry in the first place. Stay calm if you can and get curious with your conversations. I am wondering what happened here, I wonder what you were expecting, what can we do to fix things? This helps to switch the thinking brain on.
Move it or lose it.
You can redirect your child to something else once you have named and tamed things down this may work too. Distracting too early may mean your child can’t settle down and move back to thinking brain, they may still be in survival panic brain. Tame and engage first before you move them on to something else.
Connection before correction
If you to try to correct a child who is screaming they possible won’t hear you and won’t have enough thinking brain turned on. Once you have named it and tamed it and engaged the child you will have more thinking brain going on. When you have connected and repaired the relationship this is then a good time to talk about the correction. Kids can hear you when they are calm and its then time to engage the memory and thinking brain. You can talk about what happened and what we could try next time. Children will need lots of chances to get it right.
Try: "I wonder how we can do this differently next time?" Have a curious conversation and with practice they will learn to manage the overwhelm and engage the thinking brain. "Next time come get me if your brother is annoying you". Keeping a good emotional connection with your child keeps the relationship on track. Taking the time to help a child pays off in the long run. It says no matter what happens you will keep them safe and not punish them if they can’t do something, this gives your child the climate for real growth. You can offer gentle reminders and there are natural consequences for some things. eg. if you are late for school you may get a detention.
Don’t over protect
Don’t over protect your kids by taking away all the natural consequences, these are good life lessons. The feeling of having a detention will work better than you keep hanging around to make sure they are never late. That forgotten PE kit, you don't have to rush to take it in. If it happens a few times they will remember it from the natural consequences of missing PE.
This sounds like a lot of work
Raising children is hard work and they need more help than we may at first realise, they learn everything from you, how to empathise, how to do relationships how to manage emotions etc. It takes a lot more work to be emotionally available than to just scream at your child or send them to bed but it will pay off. Your self care is critical if your going to make it through the day. Spend enough time to enjoy your children but not every waking moment with them or you will start to resent them. Parents need time off to be an an adult and a couple (if you have a partner). Make sure you have fun get some time off duty. Get creative in order to ensure your own needs are met and you are not a tired out parent that wants to resign from the job.
Perfection is not required.
Its easy to think you need to be perfect and parents often give themselves a really hard time. I am bad parent or I am not doing it well enough, be kind to yourself. If you get angry with your child and shout at them don't panick. Its good to own your mistake and offer the apologies. “I got a bit angry and I am sorry. I tried to stay calm but didn’t quite manage it and I will try better next time are you ok, do you want a hug?”.
Your children will thank you for your honesty and you can repair the disconnection and reconnect. You don’t have to be perfect just good enough. How you deal with your mistakes is how your children learn to deal with theirs, so forgive yourself and they will forgive you too and themselves when they get it wrong.
Good behaviour needs good relationships
Good behaviour is about good relationships and it may take longer to be more emotionally available and to take the time to help manage the big emotions but trust me you can put in the work now and hopefully enjoy the results. Better connections and less challenging behaviour is what we want from our families. If we teach children to manage their own emotions, to think for themselves, to make choices we give them the skills for life. The time spent with your child says you matter to me and they will matter to themselves. They stand a much better change of less mental health problems and better relationships too in school and later life. If your child cares about you they are more likely to call you to let you know they missed the bus and are going to be late.
I would ask you to think of attention seeking behaviour as attachment seeking behaviour and the manipulative behaviour is just struggles to manage the big emotions. They are not manipulating they are just children trying to get you to notice them hear them and attend to them.
Some top tips for Parents
- Talk don’t shout as this kicks off the survival brain and children stop listening
- Don’t punishing children for what they can’t do as its not a kind way to parent
- Help them manage big feelings by talking about them.
- Create regular routines that can be practiced over and over
- Don’t give vague answers a clear yes or no is much better
- Try to expect a little less and provide a little more support
- If children can’t play together then help them until they can
- If you want kind caring children you have to model this
- Help manage transition with count downs “we are leaving in 10 minutes time to pack up the toys, Ok once we have packed the toys, I need you to get your coat. When we have got your coat we are going to the car” Ok lets go to the car and we are driving home". When we get home I want you to take off your uniform”. Talking them through the stages helps massively.
- Stick to your "No" if you are giving them but help them understand why and the disappointment they may feel. Also what do they need to do, to get a yes. I need more notice next time if you want to stay at your friends.
- Don’t give in to tantrums if you have said no, dont change your mind for an easier life, learn to deal with the tantrum and they become less as time goes on and children learn to accept boundaries and mange the emotions.
- Don't promise one thing and do another, childen see through the false threats and it distroys trust.
- Keep a routine and let them in on the plan so they know whats happening.
- Most of all keep playing with your children and keep talking to them so they know they matter to you.
Thought I would throw this in as its said a lot….
My children never listen to me
Your children will not listen if they are in panic brain or if you have become a broken record and they have tuned you out. You need calm unscarred brains to listen and to remember. Telling a child once is no where near enough you will need structure and supervision. Keep doing the routine over and over until they know it half by heart and it becomes habit. Telling a child once will never be enough showing them and encouraging them and letting them know they can do it if they keep trying will work in time. If we give children a million one chances to get it right they usually will with time and your patiences. Sometimes you want it done now and they want to do it later so you may need to work on trust and give reminders. When Holly Oaks has finished can you wash up or when you reach the next level in your game can you can you take the bins out. Be reasonable with your requests.
Should I use a reward chart
Let your children know when they do something well and thank them, be careful of offering rewards they can be very disheartening to a child who can’t get it right and can make things worse.
Cut your self some slack
I do believe parents try their best but they won’t have the latest up to date information on the neuroscience and attachments and we will be parenting on what we were given which will sometimes not be enough and may be unhelpful.
I am not here to judge, if you hate being a parent and don’t like your child it’s OK to tell me that. I will like your child for you and help you find a way back to them and understand what they need to build the relationships and get things back on track. You can learn to love your child and enjoy being a parent. It might mean some changes and some hardwork but it is possible.
My favourite books are listed in the picture above and this handy sheet can go on your fridge to help, and is from the author of the "Whole Brain Child" by Dan Siegel. http://content.randomhouse.com/assets/9780553907254/pdfs/Sieg_refrigerator_sheet.pdf
If you need some support to manage yours or your child’s behaviour and big feelings then get in touch.
With love and best wishes
Mel & River