Monday, July 29, 2013

Mad Parenting: Your school-aged child

With little kids, managing anger involved:
  1. Preventing anger when possible
  2. Remaining calm during an outburst
  3. Gaining an understanding of what was upsetting
  4. Responding with consistency.
It can be fairly black and white when considering preschoolers and anger. 

As kids enter elementary school, the shades of grey can emerge.  This is when kids learn that anger can be a defense against feeling the more uncomfortable feelings like sad, disappointed, jealous, or embarrassed.  Much like us grown-up kids, they will learn that mad can hide those softer feelings.

After, all, being mad can feel awesome sometimes! 

When you're mad, you're in control.  People pay attention to you.  They may even hesitate around you.  Anger can give us a sense of power in powerless situations and kids are quick to figure that out.

As kids get older and learn about their anger, the adult's "job" essentially remains the same:
  • Understand what is upsetting your child
  • Validate your child's experience
  • Consistently respond to behaviors that deserve consequences with consequences
  • Offer ways of calming down
  • Guide your child through a process of resolution
Sometimes, though, the behavior and response your child is having is so startling that everything you instinctively know goes out the window.  You get scared that something is seriously wrong with your kid.  You worry that it's all your fault somehow.  You become frozen in the worry place and everything quickly goes to hell in a handcart.

What anger can look like in school-aged kids:                                 
  • "I hate you" or"I wish you were dead", or worse"I wish I was dead".
  • Acting out by throwing something or hitting
  • Isolating by refusing to talk or join activities
  • Irritability and low-frustration tolerance
Nothing makes the phone ring faster in my office than when a parent hears rage-filled words or sees aggressive behaviors like these coming from their child.  It can be paralyzing to hear such anger coming from such a small body. It's scary to see your child act with aggression. In the wake of the Newtown, CT tragedy, parents hear these words and worry that their child could someday be capable of destruction.

What to know:
  • It is normal for kids to feel and experience rage
  • They are feeling powerful emotions and exploring powerful responses to them
  • These are misguided attempts to get control of a situation (just as when a careless driver cuts us off with kids in the car and we suddenly want to run the driver off the road).
  • Kids are usually feeling out of control when they say or do these things
  • They need adults to take control and help them calm down
  • Kids say things they don't mean, too!
  • Kids are sensitive to changes in their environment.  When changes occur that they don't understand, they respond by acting out. This gives them a sense of control they are looking for.
What to do:
  1. Stop freaking out that your child actually means these angry statements and behaviors and stay calm
  2. Talk about and validate the obvious changes to the environment that your child may be responding to: If someone has been sick or if there is conflict in the family, say so and validate that these things can be upsetting. Don't pretend these things away or tell yourself a story that they aren't "kid business" or something that is affecting them.
  3. Ask questions and show curiosity about what they are thinking or feeling
  4. Try to understand the situation
  5. Validate the feeling.  You don't have to validate the behavior.
  6. If you don't think they should feel that way, pipe downValidate anyway How did it go for you the last time someone told you that you shouldn't feel a certain way?
  7. Help your child calm down.
  8. Refrain from the teachable moment until the child is calm. No one learns when they are agitated.
  9. Ask your child what he/she wanted you to hear in their moment of upset vs. what they actually said
  10. Explain to your child, the effect those words have on you and how they make you feel
  11. If you have had this conversation before, now might be the time to deliver a consequence for scaring other people
  12. Offer ways your child could have responded differently by:
    1. Taking space
    2. Punching a pillow
    3. Finding a safe space to jump up and down
    4. Running or exercising
    5. Talking to someone
    6. Reading
    7. Screen time
    8. Drawing and art
    9. Playing with animals (if calm, of course)
  13. Remember that all of these are good options your child can try before an outburst
  14. During an outburst, you will need to be directive in calming your child down and only use options that make sense. Rewarding angry words with screen time, for example, sends a mixed message.
This stuff isn't easy and when your fears get in the way, it only gets harder.

Let me know how I can help.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mad Parenting: Toddlers and Preschoolers

In my introduction to the Mad Parenting series, I challenged you to check in with yourselves about your own experiences and thoughts about anger.

No, it wasn't because my therapist side was starting to itch!

It's because it's important for you to see your child's anger differently than you see your own.
Here are some tidbits about anger in toddlers and preschoolers.       

  • Anger in toddlers and preschoolers is normal and to be expected.
  • These tiny people are trying to learn so many new things and sometimes they don't have words for all of the things that they are learning.
  • Angry behaviors become a way of communicating when they lack the words.
  • With this age group, anger is less about aggression and more about learning the power and control they can have in their environment.
  • Kids begin to learn that when they choose certain actions, they can get BIG reactions and they test that out.
  • These young ones are smaller than their environment so good ol' fight or flight kicks in.  They either run to hide behind you or they puff up and defend.

The best way to manage your child's anger is with prevention. 

Activity Prevents Anger
  • Toddlers and preschoolers have a ton of energy running through their bodies.  
  • Without opportunities to release that energy naturally through play, running outside, and physical activity, they are more likely to have a low frustration tolerance

Prevention is all about Preparation. 
  • If you know what typically sets your child off, have a plan
    • If your daughter always cries and tantrums when it's time to leave the playground, you can prep her with extra reminders before it's time to go and name something for her to look forward to when she gets home.
    • If your son has more outbursts when he's tired, you can work on insuring that naps and quiet time are more consistent.
  • Set your kids up for success by practicing things they may struggle with. 
  • Remind your child of the rules and consequences before the activity.
  • Reinforce the skills you are trying to teach by praising them when they remain calm during a frustrating time. 

What to Do When Your Little One Acts Or Responds in Anger
  • Remain calm. Remember what I said about kids learning how to get big reactions out of their environment?  If you overreact in the moment, getting that big reaction will be reinforced.
  • Respond Quickly and Consistently.  Each time your child acts out or reacts with anger, he/she should receive the same response from you.
    • Using a neutral voice tone, at their eye level, calmly validate that you see they are upset
    • Encourage them to remove themselves from the situation so they can tell you what's bothering them
    • No one can learn anything when they are upset.  This is why it's important for your child to be calm before you teach.
    • Once you have a handle on what's bothering them, Explain: 1)what you saw, 2)why it was wrong, and 3) what they could do instead.
    • If appropriate, label a consequence.
    • After the consequence, reinforce the teachable moment and send them on their way
  • If necessary, guide an amends process.
    • This may mean retrieving a toy they threw and putting it back
    • It may mean an apology or accepting responsibility for someone they may have hurt
What if I don't agree with the whole calming before consequence thing?

I'm sure some of you will want to skip the whole calming down part and move right to a consequence. 

That's fine.

However, I usually think that immediate consequences are more appropriate for older kids. In theory, they have already learned these lessons a number of times, have had opportunities to practice, and chose to act out in anger anyway. 

Toddlers and preschoolers are just not that sophisticated.  They don't have that processing ability and shouldn't be expected to.

Need the Cliff Notes?
  1. Prevent Anger When Possible
  2. Remain Calm
  3. Gain An Understanding of What is Upsetting
  4. Respond Consistently
Still feeling unsure?  This stuff isn't easy.  A 30 minute consult might help you out and I am happy to help.
Don't miss the next installment in this series! Go to the top right of this page and sign-up for email notifications and the next entry, "Mad Parenting: School Aged Children" will be sent right to your inbox.
Until next time,


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mad Parenting: Are You Good With Anger?

Is your kid allowed to be angry? Are you?
This moment is either already familiar to you or is one that leaves you with a feeling of dread.

Your child throws a toy in frustration.
Your little one cries uncontrollably and is inconsolable.        
Your teen slams a door.
You hear rage-filled words like "I hate you" or "I wish you were dead".

If you're the parent of a younger child, you might call it a "meltdown".  For your older child, you might consider it a "phase" or console yourself with the thought that "she just needs to learn to accept no for an answer".
Parents,  let's call this what it is.  Your child is angryMadFrustrated. Maybe even enraged.
Anger is something that us grown-up kids have a real problem with.  We're not supposed to get angry.  We're not supposed to want to throw something against a wall.  If we feel that something in life is unfair, we're supposed to just deal with it.
Over and over again, we receive societal messages and expectations that tell us not to get mad.  This is what we've been taught and as a result, this is what we are teaching our kids.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Before I can help you manage and accept your child's anger, I have to help you first understand and accept your own.
Anger is just a feeling.  It has no more power over you than happy or sad.  It has a bad reputation because it is what sometimes leads people to scream, throw things, or lose control. So, we try to shut it down quickly,
That "shutting it down" is repression and when we repress our feelings, any of our feelings, they come out in other ways.  They may surface through depression.  You might withdraw from the relationships that make you feel angry.  Your body may literally hurt as your anger tightens into tension within your muscles.
We're all just grown-up kids here and what is true for us is true for kids
If they don't get to be angry, feel disappointment, and yes, even rage, their feelings will just show up in other ways.  Younger kids may have trouble settling for bed, have more crying spells or may struggle when playing with other kids.  Older kids may withdraw, stop talking, sulk about, and answer questions in short, rude tones.
These changes in kid behavior are what makes parents so nervous.  This is where the temptation to push the anger away and quickly redirect it comes from.  That makes sense.  No one will feel comfortable watching their child feel angry. 
That's ok.  You're the parent.  You're supposed to feel that way.
However, accepting and validating that your child or teen feels anger is the first step toward helping him or her manage it.
Don't worry.  I am not about to tell you to embrace a slammed door and relish in hearing hateful words.  They are not acceptable responses to anger and you'll have to teach your child to do better. 
I can help with that as we continue here.
Are you ready? 
In the coming weeks:
  1. I am going to continue this conversation on anger. 
  2. I am going to teach ways of validating the feelings your child is showing or expressing.
  3. I am going to provide words and skills you can use with your child in those moments.
As you prepare for this journey with me, prepare yourself and take stock:
  • How comfortable are you when you are feeling mad or angry?
  • What sorts of things make you feel mad or angry?
  • What do you do in those moments?
  • Do you think the people in your life allow you to be angry?
  • If not, how does that make you feel?
  • How does it feel to watch someone else angry? 
  • What was the last thing that made you mad?  Did someone validate it or minimize it?
  • When you are angry, what do you need to feel calm?

I am sure you're impatient for me to just get to it--to jump in to helping you help your kid.
Not so fast. 
Before you help your child with his/her anger, you have to know what you are bringing to the table. 
  • Get in tune with your thoughts and values about anger. 
  • Prepare yourself to accept that your child gets mad and even feels rage. 
Depending on your own personal history with anger, this might have you feeling nervous, fearful, or insecure about your abilities. 
It's ok.  You've got this. 
We're going to work together and I am going to show you how.
Still with me? 

This has been a long one and I thank you for sticking with me.
Don't miss out on what comes next: when I talk about working with managing the anger in your little ones. 
Make sure to sign up for the email list at the top right hand corner of this entry so you can receive the next post on this topic right in your inbox.
Thank you for starting this journey with me.
Until next time,

Friday, July 5, 2013

Out of patience? Wait on teaching that new skill.

Tip for today: If you're out of patience, wait on trying to teach that new skill.

It's hard teaching kids new things. 
Sometimes they don't understand. 
Sometimes, they don't pay attention. 
Sometimes, they just don't listen.
If you're irritable, frustrated, and feeling stuck, walk away.  Try some other time.

At the gym today, I was trying to learn something new and my partner was irritated. She was rolling her eyes, sucking her teeth, and using a short tone when correcting me.

How do you think that went?

Instead of learning, I became distracted by her irritation.  Feeling embarrassed and defensive, I made more mistakes and the problem was only magnified.

The same is true for kids of all ages.  They really do want to please you.  They want you to be happy with them.  When they see that they aren't meeting your expectations, their focus shifts to that and way from whatever it is that you are trying to teach.

It's ok to tell your child or teen "Let's take a breather and go back to this later."

It sets you both up for success.