In my previous blog on being emotionally responsive, we talked about how we can build attachment and lasting relationships with our child by addressing the emotion first, the behavior later.
One of our duties is to establish a safe, sensitive and predictable environment at home where our child can grow up trusting us with the biggest of emotions. In concrete ways, it is to simply let our child know that WE ARE RIGHT THERE. We are right there with them as they go through these scary and very real emotions. Our job is not to always find the solution or fix what needs fixing.
This blog will explain more on getting caught up in the angry, rising tide or the escalation that comes when both you and your child become reactive.
We have what we call Mirror Neurons (I’m very careful in this mini research and tried my best summarizing the important points for you). When we become reactive, our child’s brain picks up these so-called hints of threat- raised voice, angry eyes, leaning posture, crossed arms, etc.- and the brain instantly goes into reactive mode, mirroring the observed behavior, and takes over the calm state of our brain.
What to do now?
We need to communicate comfort using our body language and use Dr. Tina Payne Bryson’s magical tip- get below your child’s eye- level. This tells the brain of your child to not go into flight or freeze mode.
I shared this with my husband to try to do when our spirited little toddler goes into combat mode. My husband, a towering 6’9” man would go down on the floor on his tummy, and although the sight looks absolutely funny, it does wonders every time. This changed our lives significantly.
So let’s practice.
Get down there- lower than his eye-level
Don’t care whether you’re in the toilet or in your kitchen or somewhere messy. If your child strikes, get down there. Say quietly,
“Aww. You’re having a hard time, I can see. Do you need help?”
Watch magic take place.
Parents come to me saying they are tired of a lot of heated arguments escalating to irredeemable heights, with everyone hurting emotionally. I don’t ask first what they were fighting about or who started it. I always, always ask how the body language is or the position when they are talking. It is often times people distant, standing, yelling.
Art of Handling a Tantrum
Handling a tantrum is an art, which takes a lot of patience, practice, and ups and down before perfected. And because every issue is unique, and there are too many strategies to remember, and you are still trying to figure out how to approach your child, it is okay if we don’t make it work all the time. If you find it hard, forget everything else except for this one: GET DOWN THERE, below the eye- level of your child.
This is not always the go-to strategy (but I promise you it will work magic ALL the time). There are instances when we need to weigh the situation- if safety is at stake.
For example (our common scenario on the escalator), my 2-and-a-half year old wants to stand independently, touching the glass as he moves. He stomps in frustration, hitting the person above us, and refuses to stand if I keep holding his hand. We’re nearing the bottom and he just tries to pull me down, screaming.
What would you do?
Tug at his arm, glare at him with menacing eyes and say, ‘Stop it! We’re on the escalator, it’s dangerous!’?
Or simply get him and say, ‘I’ll carry you, I want you safe.’ ?
For sure you can imagine your child making crazy moves to be out of your arm. Hold him tightly and still explain in that calm, comforting manner even though your heart is palpitating.
This is NOT the best time to respond to the behavior. The whole point is to let them calm down- even if you have to do something drastically. Get them away from any danger. Don’t let them pull you in their chaos.
Once you’ve calmed down- that is the teachable moment. Say,
‘What you were doing isn’t okay, you might get hurt. Can we try again next time? Do you want to hold Daddy’s hand or Daddy carries you?’
(Future blog: Offering Choices)
I know I keep saying we need much practice. Sometimes, we know that we shouldn’t be reactive, but it’s been a long tiring day, and all you want to do is rest in peace, and expect your child to be agreeable. It turns out to be just another wishful thinking.
If you find yourself into reactive mode again, just make up.
Get down to your child, say, ‘Sorry, it’s my fault. Daddy, will try again.’