Best Parent Practices for When Kids Get Upset
Susie Caron © 2/6/16
Parents’ want to figure out ‘what’s going on” when their little-ones tantrum, or when bigger kids scream irrationally at them about their issues, but parents ask the wrong question: parents ask kids, “Why?”
If you have asked 'why', you probably recognized two things.
First, your Kids don’t seem to be able to give you any clear reason for their outbursts.
Second, if you get angry and punish your kids without understanding, they behave more badly.
Have you wondered “What am I doing wrong?” or perhaps “What else can I do?”
I suggest a much better way to handle kids when they seem agitated, and before they become overwhelmed and get worse.
Distract & Redirect Little Ones.
With little ones you’ll want to distract and redirect them because they probably don’t know or cannot tell you ‘why’ they feel overwhelmed.
You can try to ask:
Where do you want me to sit and watch?
How are your feet?
Who’s making that noise?
The idea is to try to distract and redirect them and teach them how to self-soothe.
If attempts to distract and redirect doesn’t stop the tantrum, it’s necessary to provide some calming time. To do this you could get a book and hold your child while you point out pictures until he or she forgets to tantrum. Alternatively, put your child in a nice warm bath. Stay with your child and watch him/her play. Your child may go into the water, yelling, kicking and screaming, but as the water cools he/she will also calm down. Then maybe a nice nap, for you both will help. As they grow a little older you can use the following ideas.
Calm then Engage School Aged Kids
School aged kids sometimes become so overwhelmed by issues and the business of life that they act out by yelling, screaming, and using language you don’t want. Often what they yell about doesn’t make any sense to the adult ear. Punishment may get your child out of your hair and reduce everyone’s anxiety after the fact. However, it doesn’t teach your children how to handle big emotions, especially when they cannot really identify the reason(s).
To help school aged kids stop yelling and get to the bottom of their issues, use this approach.
First, Take everything out of your hands, turn your body and eyes toward your child and stand within 6-8 feet.
“I see you are upset and I’d like to listen. I can hear you better when you to lower your voice and speak respectfully to me.”
Wait and repeat that you want to listen and you can’t as easily hear when he/she is so loud.
Say, “Please lower your voice and speak to me respectfully and I will listen.”
If your child cannot do this, send him/her to time out until ready to do so.
This is an important skill everyone must learn:
“When too upset to be somewhat reasonable, go to your own space and calm yourself. Then we’ll talk.”
When your child has calmed enough, do not ask, “WHY?”
“Why were you so upset?”
This question, beginning with the word “Why?” just sets kids off again on another round of screaming.
Because the word “Why” implies that their answers will be judged.
Think about how you felt when family members and friends have asked you questions like these:
“Why do you let your kids stay up so late?”
“Why are you having more children?”
“Why do you work outside your home when your spouse makes so much money?”
“Why don’t you send your children to MY preschool?”
Do you see how these questions feel? Questions that begin with “why” make you worry that you and your answer, will be judged.
Kids feel the same way.
They don’t want you to judge them. They want you to listen and to offer validation for their overwhelming feelings. They count on you to help them learn to calm down, navigate life and handle their issues. In addition, they often don’t really have any clear answer for “why” so they may just grab any answer that seems like the reason. Then they get more upset and you do too.
After they calm, ask useful questions.
So make life easier on yourself and your kids. After you focus on softening the behavior (which teaches your kids that they can calm themselves enough to talk about issues) then ask questions like these, and be careful to not judge while you listen and validate their feelings.
What happened that made you upset?
How did you feel when that happened?
What would you like to do about it?
Who do you want to talk with next?
Is there something you want me to do?
How do you feel now?
Validate their feelings
With each question your child answers, name and validate the feelings, even if they weren’t expressed. This teaches your child to identify the feelings and how to hook them to things that happened.
So you say things like:
“Wow, I’ll bet you felt really angry about that.”
“Oh, so you really wanted to hit her? It must have been hard to hold back.”
“You’re afraid your teacher won’t listen? What makes you worried about that?”
Here are some more feeling words you might need. (Want more, Google Feeling Words.)
Jealous courageous suspicious irritated
Sad uncertain unsafe afraid
Frustrated helpless discouraged resentful
Worried discouraged uncomfortable leery
What do you think?
Did you find this article helpful, interesting? Please leave a comment and I’ll reply.
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Twee’ Means You and Me
Working Together to Raise Good Kids.
Susie E. Caron MA,
Author, Blogger, Podcaster,
Christian, Wife, & Mother, helps build parent-child relationships, 1 blog, book & podcast at a time.
Welcome! I recently retired from combined careers in teaching, psychotherapy, and parent coaching to spend more time writing.
When I'm not busy creating books or articles, you might find me looking for dark chocolate or riding my beautiful horse Apple in the woods and fields of Vermont.
These articles are for educational and self-help purposes only and are not intended as psychotherapy.
If you experience unusual symptoms or discomfort please see your medical or mental health practitioner.
No patent liability is assumed for use of the information contained. The author disclaims any responsibility for loss or risk for use or application of this material.
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Blog Reviews & Thank You!
July 13 at 7:17pm ·
Just wanted to say that I love your posts about the different ways to connect/relate/understand your child. It has given me a new approach towards understanding my daughter and allowing HER to tell me how she feels instead of me suggesting to her how she should feel. Thanks Susie!