Aha! Parenting Blog

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5 Steps to Keep Your Cool when Your Child "Acts Up"

"Children need love, especially when they do not deserve it."-- Harold Hulbert

You know how important it is to manage your child's life so his basic needs get met and he feels "good" in his skin and in his life.  Predictable routines, plenty of sleep, downtime, cuddles and quality connection time all help kids be at their best.  But every child has times when life just seems too much for them, and they can't behave the way they'd like. That's when they act most childish (just like adults!).

We all know that when we respond to those difficult times by losing our cool, tempers escalate and a small storm can turn into a full-scale tornado that sweeps all our good intentions away. What can you do to keep your cool and settle your child down? Here's your five-step plan.

1. Make sure you aren't running on empty.  You can't act much nicer than you feel.  If your own cup is empty, how can you give to your child?  Find sustainable ways to keep your nature sunny, so you can give your child the best of yourself and keep your own emotions regulated.  That keeps you ready to rise to the occasion when your child signals he needs you.  How does he do that? By misbehaving!

Can't find a way to let the sun in?  You owe your child, and yourself, a change.  You're the grown-up, so get whatever help you need to show up with unconditional love for your child.

2. Stop, Drop and Breathe. Train yourself: As soon as you feel temperatures rising, just stop.  Drop whatever you’re doing, whether that means turning off the stove, pulling the car to the side of the road, or telling your friend you’ll call her back. Then take a few deep breaths. This calms you physically, so your mind has a chance to keep your body from getting hijacked into fight mode.

3. Remind yourself:  This is an opportunity, not an emergency.  An opportunity for what?  Getting closer to your child by helping her work through whatever’s bothering her – and teaching her to manage her emotions by role-modeling emotional intelligence.Kids learn more by watching our behavior than by what we say. However you act with your child when she's four is how she'll act with you when she's fourteen. Wouldn’t you rather have a teenager who helps you calm down rather than one who screams at you?

4. Watch your tone and bite your tongue, if necessary. Research shows that the more calmly we speak, the more calm we feel, and the more calmly others respond to us. When we use highly charged words, it makes both us and our listener even more upset and the situation escalates. Think your child needs to learn a lesson?  It's more likely to stick if you wait until both of you calm down to teach it.

5. It’s never too late. If you suddenly realize you’ve been hijacked by your own emotions, just stop.  Breathe.  Shake out your hands to let some of that anger drain out.  Say “Mommy needs to calm down” and walk away if necessary.  The more often you can stop in mid-scream, the more often you’ll find you can cool down before you even open your mouth.

When things heat up, these five steps can seem impossible.  But if you just keep practicing, they become second nature, and the whole tone in your home gets sunnier. Start now with Step 1, to be sure your own cup is full. Next time your child "provokes you,"  you'll be able to rise to the occasion and avert the stormy weather.

May your week be filled with sunshine -- and miracles, large and small.

AHA! Parenting Magazine
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