Difficult Life Situations
How do I handle my childís upset?
One of the biggest challenges for parents of infant or toddler-aged children is dealing with an upset child. Think about how you handle an upset child. Do these responses sound familiar: “You’re okay, can you give me a hug?” “Come look over here! Play with this!” “Shhhhush (accompanied by rocking or bouncing).”
Though common, these responses rob the child of the opportunity to express his or her genuine emotion. These are reactive rather than responding statements. “You’re okay, can you give me a hug,” generally stems from the parent’s fear that the child isn’t okay, or that s/he is okay but is going to start wailing. “Come over here” and “Shhhhush” are both attempts to distract the child from his/her upset or pain. To respond to the child in a way that addresses his/her emotion, we must teach him/her how to handle the upset. We can do this by using active calming ourselves, helping the child to calm down and labeling the emotion to build the child’s self-awareness.
Step 1: S.T.A.R. (Smile, Take a breath, And Relax). Actively calm yourself first so you can respond.
At first, the child’s upset may increase. This is healthy and occurs because you are allowing the child to feel the anger, upset or other emotion s/he is experiencing. Continue your active calming and move forward with the seven steps above.
As parents, our impulse is to bend over backward to avoid having our children experience any kind of discomfort. However, experiencing their own emotion is necessary and healthy for your children’s development. Be present with your children and help them cope with difficult emotions rather than attempting to shield them. The payoff will come years later when your children are able to handle their own upset about life events, whether they be bigger ones like a death in the family or smaller ones like getting a ding in his/her first car. Whatever the event, you will have taught your children the skills necessary to calm themselves in times of emotional difficulty.
How do I help my child handle disappointment?
Disappointment is a difficult emotion to handle. All parents ultimately want children to be good sportsmen, take responsibility for their actions rather than blaming others, and be able to stand tall after their falls in life (both literal and metaphoric). Here are some essential guidelines to help children with this type of pain:
First, your goal must be to help them deal with the emotion, not “happy them up.” “Happying them up” comes in many forms. It could be a distraction, a promise to buy a toy or taking them out for ice cream. This attempt to take away the pain can lead (in many years) to adults who unconsciously graze through the refrigerator or use shopping sprees to deal with disappointment.
Instead, we can provide empathy to help ease their pain and teach them that they can handle all that life brings to them.
“You seem _____________.” (Put your best guess of the feeling in the blank… disappointed, frustrated, sad, etc.) If you guess their emotion correctly, their body will relax. If you guess incorrectly, they will tense up, pull away or correct you. If this happens, simply try to describe the feeling again.
“You were hoping ______________” or “You wanted____________.” Describe the disappointment or hurt.
“It’s hard when ___________________.” Validate their feelings.
“You can handle it.” Offer assurance.
“Breathe with me.” Take a deep breath together, and then physically connect in some way.
Example: A child does not make a football team.
“You seem disappointed. You were hoping to make the team with your friends. You wanted this more than anything. It’s hard when things turn out differently than you wanted. You can handle this. Let’s take some deep breaths together.” Then hug or hold your child.
I’ve posted a great video on YouTube that explains how empathy helps children take responsibility for their upset in a compassionate, healthy way. My Conscious Discipline (educators) and Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline (parents) books also provide extensive information about ways to offer and benefits of empathy.
How can I help my child deal with pain?
Painful experiences are stressful to the mind and body. To help the body release endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers), touch is important. Deep touch, like we get during a massage, releases hormones that combat the corticosteroids (stress chemicals) in the body.
One way to touch your child is to play the I Love You Ritual “Putting Lotion on the Hurts” (pg 160).” This is a wonderful game to play with children after they have experienced some pain, either physical (after a fall from a bike) or emotional (after the death of a pet). You will need a bottle of hand lotion. Search the child for boo-boos, old scars or new scratches. The size or intensity of the scar or sore is not relevant. Begin the game by saying, “I am going to put some lotion on all those hurts. I see one right there. I will be very careful.” If the hurt is old, lotion can be put directly on the scar. If the hurt is new, be careful to circle around the wound with lotion. It is important that you repeat the message, “I will take care of you. No more hurts for you.” Continue looking over your child’s body for hurts. Use the time to massage old wounds. The nonverbal message to the child is, “You have experienced some pain, I notice that, and I am here for you.” Young children (under age five) are better with nonverbal communication than verbal. Even though the hurt the child experienced may be psychological, we can help address it in “child language” through touch. Psychological hurts and physical hurts activate the same pathways in the brain.
How can I help my child handle painful situations? We recently moved and my child is acting like itís the end of the world.
Moving, divorce, the loss of a pet or relative, a new addition to the family, not making the team, broken bones and other experiences that cause pain, fear or uncertainty can cause a temporary state of regression for children. (Children’s behavior will become less mature.) In essence, they are trying to return to a time when life was easier and their needs were met. They talk baby talk, want to be carried, can’t manage to dress themselves, etc. One technique to help them move through the regression and deal with the pain they are experiencing is to play “When You Were a Baby” at bedtime.
Begin the game by saying, “When you were a baby, I would hold you like this (do it). When you were a baby, I would rock you like this (do it). When you were a baby, I would blow on your belly like this (do it).” Continue with some things you did from their early years.
The next day, if they continue with their regressive behavior, you can tell them. “Oh, you are playing our “when you were a baby” game again! We will play it together tonight. Right now, it is time to get dressed. You can do it.”
Some “do not’s” in dealing with a child’s pain:
Some “do’s” in dealing with a child’s pain
Observe what your child does naturally to soothe him or herself. If it is socially acceptable, help him/her expand this skill and become more conscious of it. If it is not socially acceptable, (hiding under things, masturbation, etc.) teach a replacement skill.
How do you recognize the difference between a child who is having normal behavior issues and one who needs specialized services?
Developmentally, children between the ages of 3-5 years old will test and question authority to determine what is and is not allowed. Children at this age check the limits and boundaries to figure out the expectations and rules of the environment. When the behaviors become persistent and maladaptive to an extreme degree and they impede with the child’s learning process, then it would be recommended that the referral for special services begin. These children may also have an inability to form interpersonal relationships with others and/or inconsistent moods including depression. Some children may exhibit similar behaviors during a stressful time; such as the death of a loved one, recent move, change of schools, or other life changing scenarios. For that reason, it is imperative that the child be observed over an extended period of time and not just referred due to a momentary reaction.