Parents often use time-outs to help young children calm down. Many times, though, time-outs only fuel what are already big emotions. I believe there are other strategies, such as the ones listed below, that parents can use to teach children how to manage their emotions in wholesome and mindful ways.
- Connect…Use empathy to emotionally connect with your child. For example, if your child trips and falls on the sidewalk, a comment such as, ” Oops, I bet you didn’t expect to fall. You must feel a bit shook-up. Would you like to take a moment to catch your breath?” Once you have acknowledged the child’s feelings, the child feels “heard” and is more likely to put the incident in perspective. Not acknowledging or ignoring the child’s feelings (“That didn’t hurt.”) will keep the child “stuck” and you’ll probably be deluged with lots of whining, complaining, and crying.
- Re-direct…Once you have shown empathy (seeing the child’s perspective), it’s easier to re-direct the child to another activity. For instance, “I know that your sister wrecked your picture by colouring all over it. And you’re right, it’s not fair she should do that. She’s younger than you and she hasn’t learned how to value your things. Let’s think of ways to keep your things safe.”
- Boundaries…Even though your child is angry, keep your boundaries and resist giving into demands. For instance, if a child is screaming for candy, you can say, “I understand you want that candy, but I’m not going to change my mind even if you choose to keep screaming.” Continue to soothe the child and calmly repeat the message. It helps to touch the child lightly on the back, shoulder or arm while giving and/or repeating the message.
- Humor…Use humor to diffuse uncomfortable and frustrating moments. Actions such as making a funny face, moving in unexpected ways, singing a made-up silly song often break the tension.
- Setting Expectations…Let your child know your expectations. For example, “I can read you one more story and then let’s think of two or three quiet activities that you can do while I’m making dinner.”
- Keep Calm and Carry On…There is something to be said for the British saying that has recently come back in vogue. Sometimes, it is necessary to focus on what needs to be done, regardless of the commotion that your kids are causing. When children sense that you are calm, positive and purposeful, they will follow suit.
- Touch…A hand on the child’s shoulder, back or arm, many times, is just enough to let the child know that you are “with them” and ready to be encouraging and supportive.
- Move…Move and change the mood. Often when young children are cranky, they have been sitting too long and need a break. Jumping jacks, running on the spot, and other such activities will transform negative emotions into more positive ones.
- Chill…When anger is present on anyone’s part, it is NOT the time to discipline or solve problems. It’s the time to calm down so you can make reasoned and good choices. No matter what age you are, you LOSE intelligence when you are angry. For instance, if you like your home neat and you come home from work to a messy living room, it’s best to sit down, breathe and just “be.” When you are calm, then is the time to decide calmly on how to manage the situation.
- Repair…All parents make mistakes. When you do, do whatever you need to do to calm yourself. Then go to your child and apologize. “Daddy lost it when he shouted at you. I wish I would have spoken to you calmly. Please forgive me.” With older children, ask your child his/her version of what happened and apologize for your part in what went astray. It’s helpful to let your child know what triggered you and how you are going to better manage it.. As well, ask your child what both of you can do to avoid the same situation again. Children come up with many good solutions when asked! Make a plan for positive change. When children see their parents change, it inspires them to do the same. It also teaches your child that you are open and flexible to change. Great modelling!
And, remember, BIG emotions, like thunderstorms, don’t last forever!
Calm is a quality that seems elusive in our busy world. What strategies articulated above would help you to increase the peace in your relationship with your children? I would be happy to hear your replies. As always comments are welcomed and encouraged!