When Your Child Is Hellbent on Misbehaving: Time to Invite a Meltdown?

  • If she gets stuck in rage, create more safety. Rage only begins to dissipate when it feels heard, so start by acknowledging:
    • “You must be so upset about this.”
    • “I’m listening. Tell me more.”
    • “I’m sorry this is so hard.”
    • “I didn’t understand how important this was to you.”
    • “No wonder you’re upset.”
    • “It sounds like you think…That must be so hurtful for you…I’m so sorry if I contributed to your thinking that.”
    • “I hear how angry you are. You must have been so hurt (or afraid) when…I’m so sorry that…”

Behind rage, there’s always fear and hurt. If your child is yelling, see if you can help her feel safer so she can get to the deeper upset that’s fueling her rage. You do that by softening yourself so you can offer even more compassion.

Have you noticed what’s hard about this? When your child is angry, it’s natural to feel scared or angry yourself. But your child picks up those feelings and stays stuck in rage. If you can slow your breathing and remember that it isn’t an emergency, your child will feel safe enough to let go of the rage and feel the upsets that are driving it.

  • What if he can’t cry? As the emotional backpack empties and all those emotions bubble up to be felt, your child is likely to resist. There’s a reason those feelings got stuffed to begin with — they hurt! So children will often try to defend against them by lashing out. If you take a deep breath and stay compassionate, the tears won’t be far behind. Just communicate safety and love: “I’m sorry this is so hard…I’m right here…You’re safe.
  • If she runs away, stay as close as you can. If she yells at you to leave, say “I hear you…I will step back to here…I won’t leave you all alone with these scary feelings…I’m right here with a hug when you’re ready.” Don’t get in their face, but stay close enough for your presence to reassure. Later, kids usually say they did not want us to leave, even when they screamed that they hated the parent. If your child tries to distract herself (asks to nurse, or find daddy, or watch TV) just say “We can do that soon, but first we will sit here for a few minutes…I’m sorry it’s hard… It will feel better soon, I promise. You’re safe… I’m here.”
  • Reconnect. After kids have a meltdown, they’re ready to reconnect with you. Don’t insist they talk about their emotions. They probably don’t know why they were so upset, and feeling analyzed will make them feel less safe about trusting you with their inner lives. Just scoop him up, hug him, tell him he did some hard work, and reassure him that everyone needs to cry sometimes and that you love him no matter what.

You’ll see that after a good cry your child is happier, more affectionate, more cooperative. It was so hard to keep all those emotions stuffed. That would make anyone edgy! (Most of us can think of times when we felt much better after a good cry and some deep understanding from someone we love.)

Is this “manipulating” your child into crying? No. Those tears and fears were already bubbling up to get healed and they would have exploded soon — probably at a time when you were trying to move your child through the schedule and couldn’t make time for a meltdown. You made sure your child got what they needed by:

  • Accepting the emotions instead of distracting or punishing.
  • Making space for your child to show you those tears and fears at a time when you could really pay loving attention.

Should you always set limits when kids give you a hard time?  No.

  • Be sure that what you’re asking is age-appropriate. You can’t ask a two year old to sit quietly in a restaurant in the name of setting limits; it’s better just to remove her.
  • Be sure you’re not creating the situation with your own impatience. Kids are acutely sensitive to disconnections from us and always respond by acting out; in those cases a big hug is the first thing to try to restore everyone’s sanity.
  • Offer help. Sometimes your child can pull himself together if you just offer assistance with whatever’s frustrating him.

But if you’ve done all that and your child still seems hellbent on trouble, he’s asking for your help. Give him the heaven of your loving attention, and you’ll get your little angel back.

Find the original article here.

Dr. Laura Markham, founder of AhaParenting.com and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings and her latest book, the Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Workbook.

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