Meeting Kids Emotionally

temper tantrumDo you ever catch yourself dealing with a situation in the same way over & over, despite a lack of positive results?  For me, this occurred in my approach to meltdowns.  When my kids were tired, or grumpy or simply having a bad day and the slightest thing seemed to set them off, I would proceed to try to logically explain to them why they are feeling this way. I would explain to them that they didn’t eat all of their lunch so they are upset about the puzzle not going together properly because they are hungry.  Or, I know they are short on sleep so I tell them they are tired when they start freaking out because their brother touched (but didn’t hurt) their prized possession.

Their response to these logical explanations for their actions were typically more emotion.  They didn’t want to be told they are hungry or tired. They wanted to be told they were right.  It IS the END OF THE WORLD that a puzzle piece is missing. OR they simply KNOW THAT HE WILL BREAK that toy eventually so he better stop touching it NOW.  I kept persisting in my logical responses thinking I had to break through this wall of emotion, but I’ve learned I was missing an important step.

Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson have helped me out of my meltdown approach rut with their book,”The Whole Brain Child”. Among many great tips, the one I was able to put to immediate use was the simple reminder that we need to come alongside our child in their current emotional state – even during a meltdown.

The first tip I put to use was physical touch.  When a meltdown is occurring, get down alongside your child and stroke their back or give them a hug. Physical touch is scientifically known to calm down a situation.  Along with physical touch, our children need to know we are on their side before they want an answer to their problem.  Empathetic words help them know we are understanding their feelings and speaking those words give them a vocabulary to explain the emotions that are racing through their body.  Finally, after calming the child with physical touch and empathetic listening we are able to steer them to a more logical understanding of the situation.  It is likely true in my situations that hunger or tiredness were a valid explanation for why the every-day event was so frustrating or upsetting, but it isn’t until I’ve connected with my child on an emotional level that they will be ready to receive that info.

A final encouraging note was the scientific explanation that our children’s brains (and our’s for that matter) can get essentially hi-jacked by our lower impulses.  Logic and understanding can not break through to a child’s actions when emotions are out of control.  This doesn’t give our children a free pass to have tantrums or act out-of-control, but this understanding allows us to work WITH our children to rescue their more logical impulses from the power of their emotions.

I hope to continue to put these thoughts to use the next time a child has an extreme emotional response to a seemingly simple situation.

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