By Amanda Idleman, Crosswalk.com
Parents quickly realize that having well-behaved kids is often out of our control. Growing humans comes with big emotions that can at times feel difficult to navigate. Even worse, our kid’s explosive behavior can provoke frustration and anger from us because we don’t know how to handle these difficult parenting moments.
Self-control or the ability to regulate one's emotions and therefore behavior is a skill that we all have to learn, from age 2 to 82.
It’s easy to think when we see children misbehave it’s due to a lack of will to do what we think is “right” but most of the time “bad behavior” comes from a lack of skill on the part of the person to navigate a situation well.
Here are some easy ways to start teaching your kids the skills they need to be a person with self-control.Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/LightFieldStudios
1. Remember: Your Child Is Not Giving You a Hard Time, They Are Having a Hard Time
The simplest way to end a cycle of poor interactions between you and your child is to change your attitude first and foremost.
It’s easy to get frustrated with our young ones when they act out but we often fail to see the part we play as parents as either those who are able to help them through their tough moments or those who fan the flames of our children’s emotional fires.
When our kiddos wail, cry, or refuse to comply they are communicating something they don’t have the words for yet. It’s our job to offer them a safe space to get to the bottom of the frustrations that are causing their negative response.
Their behavior is rarely about you, even though as parents it’s so hard not to take it personally. It’s really about them struggling with the circumstances they are in.
If we approach our kid’s difficult moments with a willingness to offer a compassionate ear, our kids will know they are safe even in their most frustrating moments.
This posture helps you to keep yourself from escalating right along with your child. As a parent you need to stay calm and strong, separating yourself from feeling personally assaulted from your child’s bad behavior is a great way to help you to be calmand strong that they so desperately need.
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2. Take a Collaborative Approach to Solving Behavior Problems
Problem solving is a skill that not many of us do well. How many adults do you know that are able to efficiently work through conflict with others and come up with solutions that make everyone happy? Not many. This is because solving problems with others takes a lot of effort. Most of us learn from an early age that if we want something done, it’s best to do it on our own.
If we want our kids to be able to problem-solve difficult situations that are causing them, and you, stress then we have to include them in the conversation.
Practically this looks like first approaching our children to talk about difficult behaviors or situations when everyone is calm and empathetic. Ask them about the situation and truly inquire to find out the reasons for the difficult behavior you are experiencing.
Next take a moment to then share your concerns with them. This is the time to kindly and clearly state the problem that you feel you are facing.
Now is the time to practice problem solving together! After you both talk through your concerns prompt your child to help come up with suggestions on how to remedy the situation. If they can feel ownership in the solution, it’s a lot more likely that the solution will work!
Once you both agree on how to solve the problem then you both have a chance to feel heard and loved through this problem-solving process.
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3. Connect Emotion-to-Emotion First Before Proposing Logical Solutions
Science has proved to us that when our brains are overloaded with emotion, we can’t process logic. When our emotions are hypercharged, we first need someone to connect with us emotionally in order for us to be able to invite calm wisdom to problem solve the situation logically.
How do we connect first emotionally with our kids when they are acting out? First hint- it’s not by yelling at them to calm down (believe me I’ve tried this method out many times and it’s never worked for me).
Here are a few things you can try instead:
1. Use gentle but firm physical touch. Offer your kids a hug when their emotions are over the top, or if they are older maybe a gentle squeeze of the hand.
2. Maintain direct eye contact and a calm tone is another great way to calm those big emotions.
3. Remind your child that they are safe and loved before addressing their problematic behavior.
Once your child is calm then it’s your chance to talk about potential consequences, alternative behaviors to use in that situation, or other ways to logically solve the problem together.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Tijana87
4. Give Your Child Choices When Trying to Work Through Difficult Behaviors
Have you ever been in a power struggle with another adult that you did not want to win? Doubtful. Human nature pushes us to want to feel a sense of control over our lives and children are no different.
When they are pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable in your home, they are trying to test their environment to see what’s allowed and ultimately if they are safe in it.
For most of us to feel safe we need to feel like we have some power over what is going on in our lives.
When your child is struggling to respond positively to a situation, rather than threatening them with consequences that typically just escalate a situation, offer them some positively framed options.
For example, my daughter wanted an extra piece of cheesecake after already having a donut. I could have just said no you can’t have anything more and punished her if she didn’t obey my command against further sweets.
Instead, I told her I’m sorry she can’t have cheesecake because she already had one treat, but she can have a banana, apple, or granola bite. Now she has some say in what she can do and isn’t as inclined to get into a power struggle with me over what I’m telling her she can't do.
On top of that, it honestly helps me to feel a bit less like the bad guy all the time if I am able to offer something when I’m needing to limit something else.
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5. Offer Your Child a Predictable Routine
If your child is acting out during a particular activity or time of day then they may need a more structured routine to help them navigate that situation. Kids want to know what to expect. If they feel unsure then often time their demeanor will reflect that.
Structure can look like you prescribing to the child what consequences they can expect if they act out before you enter the situation and then being sure to follow through if they act out of line.
It could mean giving prompts or warnings before a transition so they can prepare for what is next.
Sometimes routine is just that: following the same pattern over and over until your child feels familiar with what to expect.
When they feel like your word and routine are reliable your child is much more likely to comply with expectations. It may take time for their behavior to change but if you are consistent in your response, they will learn how to better handle settings that typically trigger difficult behavior.
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6. Have Reasonable Expectations for Your Child
Many times, kids have trouble meeting behavioral expectations because we haven’t equipped them for the situation. Is your child hungry? Tired? Overstimulated? Unwell? Struggling with a friendship? Confused? Feeling defeated by a more challenging subject in school?
What kind of temperament does your child have? Will sitting in a class be hard for them and therefore it’s reasonable to expect the teacher may bring it up as a concern? Is your child shy and expecting them to make new friends on their own may be unrealistic?
It’s important that we take into account who are children are and how they are doing at the moment when we formulate expectations for our kids in our minds.
It is appropriate to have high standards for our kids, but they should be fair ones.
My firstborn is very cautious. New experiences can be very overwhelming to him. This year he participated in his first swim meet and he was exceptionally clingy, emotional, and extremely reluctant.
I could have been frustrated with his problematic response to a “fun” new experience, but I knew that he struggles with the unknown. I helped him through it the first time, not letting him quit, but allowing him the space to cry and stayed by his side.
He swam his first race and LOVED it! I was so proud of him. My pride was not about the time he made across the pool but for overcoming his fear because I knew that was a huge win for my reserved boy!
Having appropriate expectations for my son and knowing that a swim meet would bring out some negative responses helped us both get through the whole thing with a lot more understanding and less frustration.
If we know our kids struggle in an area, we need to allow them the grace to grow into it.
As parents it’s easy to get bogged down in our day to day stressors that we can begin to get slack in the ways we approach our kids, particularly when their behavior is challenging.
Galatians 6:9 reminds us to not grow weary in doing good. We don’t have to get it right as parents every time, but we do have to keep at it--showing up daily, willing to help our kids grow past their struggles.
Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes about all things motherhood for Richmond Macaroni Kid, creates devotions for Daily Bible Devotions App, she has work published with Her View from Home, is contributing to a year long marriage couples devotional for Crosswalk, and is a regular contributor for the marriage/family/homeschool/parenting channels on Crosswalk.com. You can find out more about Amanda at rvahouseofjoy.com or follow her on Instagram at rvahouseofjoy.
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