#1 Catalyst for Change
This mega huge list of ideas is not a directive of someone who knows better than you. But maybe in this compilation you’ll find something you haven’t tried yet and the breakthrough you need. In any case, this page of brainstorming has helped me find solutions that work for my family. The list is not exhaustive and I welcome your suggestions too because in the spirit of brainstorming you can never have too many ideas to glean wisdom from.
The #1 catalyst for change is Finding Balance in all the other areas of life.
Happy kids don’t act out. And while you do have to address the issue at hand and calm the outburst in the heat of the moment, remember that if the child were fulfilled then one trigger would not break the camel’s back. So, ultimately, it’s not about this one trigger. First we’ll look at the immediate intervention, then we’ll identify the underlying cause of the outbursts.
The only way to learn self-regulation is through watching you model it; I like to call it co-regulating. In every step, you illustrate with your body the way you expect them to handle it: calm gestures, gentle words, and a teaching spirit.
Anticipate the Triggers
What you see: Your kid is irritated and escalating slowly.
Your guiding truth: A conversation that starts poorly will end poorly. (The Gottman Institute can deduce the outcome of any conversation in the first three minutes.)
This is where you put on your calm-non-judgement-super-hero-cape and gently redirect the interaction, separate the agitated, and teach emotional intelligence.
- Catch them off guard by not screaming or guilt tripping. “Sweetie I need you right now and this can’t wait.”
- Be the science teacher adjusting the microscope so they can observe what’s going on inside. “Hold your hand on your heart. Is it as calm as when you are resting in bed?”
- Involve them in processing for themselves so that the desire for change comes from within. “Last time you started irritating each other what happened?”
- Bring to light truth that they can’t put into words. “And what you really wanted was for them to play your way and so this course of action never really go you what you wanted anyhow. Anger couldn’t give you the results it promised.”
- Speak with compassion not sarcasm. “Is that really how you want this to end?”
- Always remind them that you are pointing out these triggers so that they can learn to anticipate them on their own and someday they won’t need your help.
- Let them know if they feel this irritation they can come to you at any time and the two of you can calm together, because you know how it feels.
During the Outburst
What you see: Your kid is already so invested that they are unable to stop, articulate their feelings or have a logical conversation.
Your guiding truth: Be the calm you want to see in those around you. (Nagging and criticism cause teen brains to shut down, literally. — Lee, et all. Oxford University Press.)
You will not always be there to anticipate the triggers. If the critical thinking has already shut down, then no amount of logic will be able to talk them down.
- Approach them with as much physical affection as they accept, a hug, rubbing their back, never impose.
- Practice cardiac synchronization. No matter what their heart does, count your breaths and heart beats to slow them slower and slower throughout the interaction.
- Acknowledge, “I see you are angry.”
- Perhaps they direct their outburst at you, “I want it now!”
- Mirror, “It sounds like you want it now.”
- Define, “When someone doesn’t give you your turn that’s not fair is it…” and here they should connect with you and feel understood rather than hurt, “it’s not fair and it’s not respectful and it’s just plain not nice. What if we go talk to them together? Do you think that would help?”
- This is where I’m asked to write scripts of what to say that would work. As you can imagine, cookie cutter scripts can not work for all kids because kid’s struggles are not one-size-fits-all. But I am confident of this, we can find a script that will work for you, and your family and your specific kid’s struggles, but it will be a bespoke tailor-made version that fits their heart. I’m only a phone call away. Keep reading to get started weaving your own…
What you see: Your kid is calm, but the issue is unresolved.
Your guiding truth: Self-regulation is a learned activity.
I learned this from someone, you can learn it too. You’re a rockstar! I believe in you!
Nichole teaches the Mechanics of Emotions (link coming soon!)
The Junto feelings wheel highlights the nuances of overlapping emotions.
Learn the definitions together of the key words that capture the true story. Think about what elements of this outburst are reoccurring struggles in your kid’s life. One mom observed of her youngest child, “Helplessness, probably, but that word is not in his vocabulary.” This might happen often as you experience new things together.
- My daughter comes home from school sulking. I ask what’s wrong. “Nothing.” I ask how was recess. “Bad.”
- “I didn’t want to play the game the girls were playing, so I sat on a bench and a girl kept coming up to me and saying mean things and when I told her to stop she just did it over and over until I felt so tired that I laid down on the bench.
- I look through my list of emotions and look up a few that describe this experience. I print out the definitions and take them with me when I tuck her into bed.
- While she’s laying calm and and relaxing I read her one of the definitions. “Listen to this, ‘Irritating or attacking continuously to exhaustion.’ Have you ever felt that way?”
- Her face lit up, “Yes, on the playground.”
- “Did you know there is a word for that? What I read is actually the definition for the word harassment. Thousands of people have felt that way. And did you know that it is illegal to make someone feel the way you felt?”
I also looked up other definitions that didn’t hit the mark. That’s why you should always lead with the definition and ask them to validate. Even if you think your child knows the definition of a word, they might not be willing to say, yes, I feel harassed, because they might assume that their problems are not big enough to merit that word. Or that it can’t be bullying because it’s their brother. Or they might not want to validated the word helplessness because there might be shame in being weak. So propose the definition first and then let them validate it, or not, before they find out what word you are defining. Try synonyms and antonyms too. “Have you ever felt that there is nothing you can do that will ever make a difference?” “Do you ever feel like everyone else gets to decide things except you?” Eureka!
Now that you are equipped with your own personalized outburst script — The real work begins.
Because, no matter how eloquent you are at putting out fires, your real goal is preventing those fires from erupting, am I right?
So we are going to observe them in every setting of life and put into motion a plan that provides opportunities for fulfillment.
Now some things you can’t do for them, like if it turns out they don’t have any friends at school, I mean you can’t just go force kids to be friends. But you can set them up for success by asking the teacher who they get along with at school, choosing the setting, and making fond memories.
Other things depend more heavily on us as parents. Like the time my daughter was resentful that she had no control over choices. We as parents had to articulate for her when we she had choices. Some were things she had always had control over and took for granted, like choosing what to wear. While other bigger choices we needed to relinquish control or even create opportunities for her to choose what to do with her day.
During a relaxed happy moment, get your kid talking about the things in life that bring the most satisfaction, but also their struggles.
- Is there anything going on in your life that you think I could help you with?
- Is there anything going on that you don’t think I could help you with?
- What is your favorite thing about school?
- What was the worst thing that happened at school this year?
- What would you like to do more of this month?
- What would you like to do less of this month?
And while you are using co-regulation to train new skills of self-regulation you are allowed to stack the deck. What would a successful happy day look like? Let’s plan a few of those in a row to give the brain some time to unlearn bad habits and create new neural pathways. Let the scab heal over before playing rough again.
Help your kid make goals, not necessarily related to the irritation, but good, healthy, fulfilling goals that will help strengthen the balance so that the irritation doesn’t tip the scales so easily.