Everyone would agree that loving our children is one of the most important things a parent can do.
But sometimes expressing that love isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sarafina wrote about a breakthrough she had in learning to connect with an extremely angry child:
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Parents sometimes feel like hostages to the intense demands of their children, intimidated into submission with the threat of “the big gun” – a deafening meltdown. One of our online course participants asked for help:
Our 3 1/2 year old son often wants a specific plate or cup. So if we set him up with one that he doesn’t like, he can be very vocal about it. Sometimes our initial reaction is something like “It doesn’t matter if you have the blue cup or the orange cup. Why can’t you be flexible & move on?!?! Get over it!” But perhaps he wants to exercise his choice & preference.
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I’ve heard a lot of encouraging stories from parents during coaching sessions, but even I was shocked at this one.
We can hardly believe it’s 2015 already! Before we dive into a year of new blog posts, we thought we’d dwell for just a moment on some of your favorites from 2014. Here are the ten most-clicked parenting tips of 2014.
P.S. If you know a friend or relative who might benefit from some Connected Families insights, this would be a GREAT post to share with them!
Simply stated, kids have tantrums because they pay off. In some convoluted sort of way they get what they want. Even if it means they lose their cool and wear themselves out. The challenge for a parent is determining what exactly a child might need in the midst of an all-out emotional outburst. What they want may not be what it appears at face value to be. For example, even if the flailing tantrum at the store does not get them the object of the tantrum, the child is still likely meeting a need for intense attention, for power, and for control. So if a child is lacking good attention, or feels out of control, a tantrum might be just the thing the child needs in order to get some attention or feel in control.
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Fists clench. Ears turn red. Lips quiver. The tiny chest heaves to draw in a breath and then — “NOOOOOOOO!!”
When your child starts working up to a tantrum, those tell-tale warning signs can make an explosion seem expected, or even inevitable. But while a meltdown might seem predictable, it doesn’t have to be inevitable.
Just like us, our kids sometimes react angrily when something important to them feels attacked. First expressions of anger are almost always aggressive. As kids get old enough to express themselves, the aggression becomes words and actions.
I saw it just today. The toddler at the Post Office was angry that her mom wouldn’t give her the sucker the postmaster handed out. She chased her mom through the lobby, and when the mom stopped at her P.O. box, the feisty little gal hauled off and whacked her mom. Mom turned quickly with her finger extended and brow furled. “Stop it!” she yelled. It’s a natural response that doesn’t really teach kids anything constructive. But before the mom could say anything else I simply and rather loudly said to the child, “Wow! You’re really mad! You really want that sucker.” I looked right at her from across the lobby and she looked back. I paused for just a second or two. Her mad face immediately softened. I then said, “but you can learn to be nicer when you’re mad.”
The mom looked at me, looking a bit ashamed but also relieved. She then immediately looked at her daughter and calmly said, “Did you hear him? You should be nicer when you’re mad.” She held out her hand and the daughter took it, and they walked quietly out to the car.
Now it could be that the little gal quieted because she was shocked that some ugly old balding man with a grey beard would talk to her that way. But we’ve seen time and time again that when grown-ups can validate their kids’ anger – even aggressive anger – and put words to what the kids feel, it helps the kids feel understood and then settle down. It helps the parents settle too. Then the resolution can be much more constructive.
There is no more important time for kids to know they are loved than when they misbehave. If the love message misses them then, they will grow to
believe that love is conditional or earned. People who believe that love is earned tend to rise and fall with their performance, and compromise themselves for approval. Not what we want for our kids.
One way children know they’re loved is if you simply say so, not in a condescending way, but from your heart, right there while your kids are misbehaving. (Sound crazy? Just try it!) But another powerful, perhaps less-well-known way to express love is by expressing understanding, or empathy.
What might happen if every time we disciplined our children we remembered this powerful message of God’s love for us: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). God’s love is a free gift. No strings attached. No behavioral outcomes needed. If God loves us so freely, let’s receive that love, and give it away to our kids. Even when they misbehave.
We have repeatedly found that when parents can make their love known, even in the worst of behavior challenges, it almost always softens the intensity of their children’s defiance. And more importantly, it communicates to children that they are loved no matter what, whether they behave well or poorly.
It’s hard to do this, because we get caught in the heat of the moment. But what if…?
Does your child sometimes unexpectedly meltdown at the drop of a hat? Does unexpected change or inflexibility lead to frequent tantrums? If so, you’re not alone! As a parent helping kids sort out their frustrations can be a challenge, especially when they have a tantrum that ramps up quickly. Practical tools that help a child understand how their behavior affects others can be simple, like the following example from Jen and her son Jonah.
Despite Jen’s best efforts, her goal of trying to stop her son’s meltdowns just seemed to make them worse. After realizing that she needed to be more proactive instead of waiting for those inevitable outbursts, Jen worked with Lynne during a parent coaching session on a new plan. Here is her story: