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“Calm down!” - a phrase so often used when addressing our tantrum-throwing child. Here’s the hard truth: they just can’t. Up until the age of 12, children’s brains are simply not developed enough for them to be able to self-regulate their emotions. Here’s the thing: they need YOU to co-regulate with them.
The more we practice co-regulation when they’re very young, the earlier your children will learn the skills needed to regulate their emotions. Until then, they need YOU.You might be thinking, “But I get angry, I get triggered, it’s hard for me to stay calm”. And that’s all understandable and normal if we, as adults, have not learned the skills to self-regulate either. Remember this: An escalated adult cannot de-escalate an escalated child. You know the scenario, your child is upset, you start raising your voice, he/she gets more upset and it’s a downhill battle from there. And that’s what we, the adults, need to work on to support our child. How to stay calm in the storm, how to stay grounded and how to support the child through co-regulation. To start, keep this in mind every time your child is having a tantrum, causing trouble, or triggering you: see the scenario through your child’s eyes, put yourself in your child’s little body and (non-fully developed) brain. Your child’s behaviour is not a scheme to make your life difficult. Your child is not trying to give you a hard time. This behaviour is simply showing us that your child is having a hard time. And your child needs your support, some empathy and connection. So what do you do?
Tend to your own needs. What do YOU need in this moment to stay calm. The easiest and most important thing to do is to take a DEEP BREATH. Just breathe in, breathe out a little longer. This will tell your body that there is no real danger, no reason to speed the heartbeats and put us on high alert. You might find it helpful to ground yourself. Literally feel your feet on the ground, maybe even sit on the floor if you can. Remind yourself of what is true and what is not.Are you in the supermarket and worried about the judgmental stares and the belief that you are failing? Well, acknowledge the thought and tell it to keep moving as you don’t need it. It is simply not true. The judgmental eyes do not matter. What matters the most is to stay present in the moment and focus on what is real: my child is having a hard time and he/she needs me.
Instead of correcting/fixing/teaching/talking…stay quiet. Just listen, be there, offer a hug if they are willing, or stay close but don’t touch them if they prefer. You are their safe space. Show your child that his/her feelings matter. What your child’s body is feeling is telling them something, and we need to respect it. By staying calm, yourself, by modeling breathing slowly, your child will, at least, not escalate.
Assess the situation. What is going on here? Has your child missed a nap? Is your child hungry? Is the noise overwhelming? Is your child in a social experience they don’t feel comfortable in? Make your best guess, name their feelings: Are you feeling bored? Hungry? Tired? Do you need a hug? Would you like to go out for a walk? Is this place too loud? Were you trying to tell me something and I was busy and couldn’t hear you? Are you frustrated? Name the emotions. Name it to tame it.
Access your sensory calming tools. What makes my child feel calm? A hug, some music, reading a book, playing with sand, dancing, fresh air, quiet, dark. Observe and take note of what your child finds soothing and remember to use them in times of need.
-----To recap: be aware of your own body’s needs to stay calm. Accept what is true and let go of what is not. Take it slow, hold space for your child. Connect to your child to make him/her feel safe. Remember your child’s sensory calming tools. In the end, if there are just two things you really should take away from this article, it is 1: Let them be. Your child is not giving you a hard time, your child is having a hard time. And 2: Your child is unable to self-regulate. Your child needs YOU to co-regulate with them until he/she learns the skills to do it himself/herself.
Written for Kidzapp by Parenting Coach, Pascale. Follow her on @parenting.moments
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