08 Jul

Covid-19 Masks of Mad: Parenting Solutions to Calm the Storm of Anger

Covid-19 is tipping our world upside down. Your kids are just as sad and worried as you are. No wonder they’re irritable, throwing fits over the most trivial frustrations.

Your toddler has a meltdown when he can’t have his favorite cereal. Your daughter stomps her feet and turns over the game board, because she didn’t win. Your teen explodes when his sister plays his video game without asking first. Your once cheerful preteen son is dejected, because he can’t see friends or go to the summer camp he loves.

Your mood isn’t much better. You worry about the job you lost or your safety if you have to go back. If school reopens, you’re worried about your kids getting sick or bringing Covid-19 home to you and older family members. Or if school doesn’t open, you’ve got concerns about safe, affordable child care. People around you are getting sick, and, so far, there’s no cure or vaccine in sight. Your kids aren’t the only ones who feel like prisoners in their own house. It seems like so long ago when you got to party with friends, go to weddings, graduations, or funerals in person. Without wanting to, you and your kids have become experts at Zoom, Google Meets, and all forms of virtual communication.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has shown us the fragility of our mental, physical health, and financial health. As it ravages our economy and challenges our sanity, many of us feel helpless, stressed, and worried, and then mask those uncomfortable feelings with anger.

In the face of anxiety and depression, anger is something that gives us an illusion of control. Taking concrete action, even if fueled by anger, helps us feel clarity and confidence––even a physical sense of release from the doldrums of depression, worry, and apathy.

Our kids also find relief in anger, which has been shown to wreak havoc on the nervous system, affecting moods, sleep, and health. We can become physically and emotionally sick if we don’t have skills to deal with this overwhelming emotion. And, although anger itself isn’t the enemy, during this pandemic shutdown, we’ve seen a spike in domestic violence and child abuse fueled by out-of-control anger.

To break the stranglehold of anger on yourself and your family, you first need to see those feelings in yourself. As your kids’ role model, you can show them how to identify and handle those powerful emotions before they become unmanageable.

Here are a few tips for finding your calm in the storm:

1. Pay attention to what’s positive. See what’s great about your situation, your family, friends, or your child. No matter how annoying, you can find always find something about them to be grateful about.

• Write down what you love about each of your kids, or about anyone among your friends, family, or colleagues.

2. Nurture your relationships. Find time to have fun with your kids, connect with family and friends, or be friendly to your neighbors.

• Play with your kids, even for 5 or 10 minutes. Let them tell you what they want to do––this encourages connection.

• Make up routines and rituals for you and your kids to share feelings. (i.e., something I liked today; things I like about someone in the family; what bothered me today; what I’m looking forward to tomorrow).

3. Help others: see the bigger picture and be part of the solution.

• Discuss issues that affect your children and let them help you decide which community organizations you’d like to support as a family.

• Help a neighbor with groceries, pet care, or yard work.

4. Be your own best friend by taking care of yourself. Eat healthy. Get exercise. Give yourself enough sleep, even if you have to nap while kids are watching TV. Avoid numbing yourself with alcohol or by overdosing on news or TV. Spend more time outside.

• Try setting a timer to limit the time you spend watching or reading news or social media.

• Read a book, play a board game, take a walk or go to a park with your kids, practice a skill you already know or learn a new one.

5. Recognize the signs of anger in yourself. Is it tightness in your hands or shoulders, a faster heart beat, or your face feeling hot? Don’t worry about feeling these sensations. Name them and know that they don’t last forever. Like clouds drifting across the sky, they simply come and go.

• Teach your kids to meditate. Meditation has many benefits, including resetting the nervous system. Start by ringing a bell or a gong. Have your child focus on breathing slowly and deeply, feeling the cool air coming into the nostrils and the warm air going out. Let her know that, if she’s having thoughts, she can silently say to herself, “thinking,” and go back to feeling the air go in and out. After a few minutes (based on her ability to focus), ring the bell or gong and listen until the sound fades.

• When you feel you’re getting riled up, take a breather. Stop. Breathe. Let go. Connect.

6. Stop what you’re doing. Take a deep slow breath, or as many as you need to feel calm. Shake out your hands. Think about what you might be feeling. What if you were just a fly on the wall, what would you notice? How might you see things differently? Is what you were about to say or do going to be helpful or harmful?

• Do something that’s self-nurturing: wash your face with cool water, listen to calming music, go into another room (if it’s safe to leave your child for a moment), be kind to a pet, give your child a hug (if he’s receptive), or find something silly to laugh about.

During these endless days of quarantine, playfulness, humor, and creative self-care set an example that your children can follow. Your kids look to you to learn how to handle difficult emotions. Instead of unleashing the wrath, give kids tools to put that anger to good use.

To your peaceful parenting!

Kim

07 Sep

How to Tame Tantrums: One Strategy That Really Works!

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Three-year old Jake was desperate to play with his older sister and her friend, who were setting up an family camping outing with their Playmobile toys. He had played alone since lunchtime and wanted to be part of the fun. The girls had just gotten the campsite set up, having placed the toy family at the campfire, when Jake asked to bring in his favorite toys, a gang of dinosaurs. But the girls saw no place for the dinosaurs in their story and told Jake, “no, leave us alone!” Jake turned bright red in the face, did all he could to contain his tears, and then lashed out. With repeated kicks left and right, he proceeded to destroy the entire, elaborate scene that they’d spent hours putting together. Pieces of the girls’ camping haven were now scattered in every corner of the room. Jake stood there fuming, glaring angrily at the girls, and looking helpless and defeated.

As a parent, how would you deal with Jake? Would you punish him by putting him in time out? Or yell at him to stop bothering his sister? Perhaps you’d tell him, or the girls, to be “nice,” or else…? What other choices do you have?

With the understanding of why your child has tantrums, you could take a more proactive stance. In most cases, the child having a tantrum is totally out of control and needs your guidance. In full-blown tantrum mode, the child’s upper level thought processes are entirely off line. He has lost the use of his cerebral cortex, the part that gives him the ability to think, be flexible, and express his feelings. Utterly dysregulated, he doesn’t know how to deal with the big emotions he’s feeling, nor does he have the tools to ask for what he needs. He needs your help to soothe his distress.

“When your child is at his worst, that’s when he needs you the most,”
– Daniel Siegel, No Drama Discipline

Try to remember this the next time your kid drives you crazy. Your connection with your child comes first, and, besides protecting him and others from harm, and keeping property intact, this is more important than anything else. The upset child is in a reactive state: his “reptilian brain”––the part that’s wired for fight, flight, freeze or faint––is on alert. He can’t listen to reason or logic. By approaching with an empathic and nurturing attitude, you can help soothe out-of-control emotions and lead him to a calmer state where he can experience self-control.

Through your gestures, body language, and facial expressions, you can show him that you really understand and feel his distress. This might mean quieting your voice to a warm, friendly tone, giving a gentle touch or a hug, sitting down on the his level, and softening your facial expression. You might gently pick him up, rub his back, and soothe him, letting him know that you get how much it hurts. All of these gestures signal to your child that he is safe and he is not alone. You are setting limits of physical safety by preventing him from harming himself or others, or from damaging property. This helps re-integrate the brain, which means he’ll have moved from being reactive to being receptive, and will be able to use some higher level thinking.

When he’s calm enough to look you in the eyes, you could use a few quiet, empathic words to show you get it (i.e., “you really wanted them to let you play” or “you felt left out”) and go on to redirect him about asking for what he wants by telling him something like, “you can say, ‘I want to play, too.’” By connecting in a soothing way, you’re training his brain to self-regulate, to cope with anger and frustration. You’re helping him regain self-control. As a result, he’ll be able to listen to the limits you’ve communicated to him and absorb the message (i.e., “kicking your sister’s toys is not respectful. You can tell her you’re sad she’s not letting you play”).

By being there for him emotionally, you give him a foundation for learning upper level skills such as sound decision-making, emotional regulation, personal insight, flexibility, empathy, and morality. These skills, which he’ll need to enjoy a balanced and meaningful life and healthy relationships, are governed by a part of his brain that won’t fully mature until he’s in his mid-twenties!

So, the next time your child throws a big, messy tantrum, keep in mind that you are a co-builder of your child’s brain. Jump in and connect with him emotionally. You’ll not only be teaching your child to self-calm and make positive choices, you’ll also be deepening and strengthening your relationship with him.

To your joyful parenting!

Kim