“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice,” says Peggy O’Mara, public service journalist and attachment parenting guru. No pressure or anything. You may be committed to mindful parenting as a dad, but how do you respond when you’re at your wits end?
Here are seven things you can do to help you keep your cool when your kid is having a meltdown.
Your two-year-old is in full tantrum mode at the breakfast table. Ignore your impulse to argue, cajole, or otherwise try to stop the madness. Instead, wait it out. At the peak of her frustration, she is actually incapable of listening to reason or calming down, but in a couple minutes she may be much calmer and ready for a hug.
Your 6-year-old is making a scene at the grocery store. Maybe he’s simply frustrated or tired. Probably he’s dealing with feelings he hasn’t learned to control yet. (By the way, that’s completely developmentally normal.) The least likely explanation: he’s intentionally trying to drive you crazy.
That’s right - turn the conventional advice on its head. If you’re feeling exasperated, your body is probably flooded with stress hormones inducing a fight-or-flight response. Before you can turn this into a teachable moment, you need access to the rational problem-solving part of your brain. Six deep exhales should do the trick.
Have a mantra on hand for those moments when the only thought going through your mind is “Make it stop!” Something like “This too shall pass” should work - reminding you that nothing is permanent, not even this seemingly interminable red-faced screaming fit.
You know that funny face you make? The one that cracks your kid up every time ? Make that face. Laughter helps to release tension and reduce stress, putting you both in the right frame of mind to discuss the recent episode of, shall we say, unfortunate behavior. If you’re too frustrated to crack a joke, just offer a hug. Physical connection works the same way. Besides, an emotionally exhausted post-tantrum child will need the comfort of physical affection.
By the way, this strategy can work with bickering adults too.
Research has shown that extrinsic punishments and rewards, like time-outs for bad behavior or gold stars for good, work only in the short term. In the long-term, kids that rely on rewards and punishments don’t develop the capacity for self-control.
Rather than trying to fix the current “problem” of bad behavior, focus on conversations that help your child learn to self-manage. Once you have both calmed down and reconnected, ask questions to help your child unravel her reasons for misbehaving and brainstorm effective alternatives for dealing with a similar situation in the future.
When you see your child actually using the strategies that you brainstormed after the breakfast table tantrum, let her know! Just remember to praise the behavior rather than the child . Consistent, mindful praise will result in a child with a mindful inner voice.
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