For when the fireworks are too close for comfort!

fireworksFor some of us, fireworks don’t just happen at the park on the 4th of July. You parents of young children know what I’m talking about! I’m talking about the fireworks that happen when our children have their meltdowns, tantrums, upsets, you-name-it….especially in a public place! When it seems like the screaming and flailing about is just as loud and spectacular as any fireworks show you’ve seen.

These are the times that test our fortitude as parents and test our ability to dance in the gap of (1) our vision of how we want to parent and (2) how we actually do it during the daily grind. Hopefully, these 3 tips will help you bridge that gap in the midst of the familial pyrotechnics:

1. Stay calm
THE MOST HELPFUL thing you can do when your child is losing it is to stay calm yourself. If you lose it too and start yelling then all hope is lost. Your child needs you to guide her through the emotional storm. That’s hard to do if you’re lost in the storm yourself. So breathe and repeat a mantra to yourself that will help you stay calm…such as “I can do this in a calm loving way” or “This too shall pass.”
(You may have to come back to this mantra over and over again).

2. Get down close to your writhing child*
Yes, you read that correctly. Squat down, or even sit or lie down on the floor with your child (depending on where you are). Perhaps you just wouldn’t be comfortable lying in the grocery store aisle; but if you’re at home or the home of a friend, go for it!

Instead of isolating your child or letting the emotional tempest keep you at bay… go in, get close. As we say in the conflict resolution field: lean into the conflict. This will get easier the more you do it, and your calm close presence is likely to have a calming influence on your child when he starts to trust that you can be a safe container for his big emotions. With repetition, you may find this strategy alone lessens the intensity and decreases the time of a tantrum.

3. Offer understanding and empathy to your child
Your child is too young developmentally to be able to reason out of her intense emotions. That’s why all the perfect reasoning and logic in the world won’t help in those moments. Plus, we tend to use way too many words when our child is upset. (To be honest, when you are having intense emotions, do you want someone to give you reasons why you shouldn’t be feeling that way? Or do you want someone to hear you and to understand the pain you’re in?)

Instead, offer your child two precious gifts: understanding and empathy.

Here are some phrases to try:

  • I know it’s hard when you really really want that cookie right now.
  • It’s hard to want something really bad and not be able to have it.
  • I know…sometimes I want things too that I just can’t have.
  • It’s okay to cry. I know it hurts. I’m here with you.
  • You want to sit on my lap?
  • You want me to hold you while you cry?

Comments such as these give your child the message: “I know. I understand. There’s nothing wrong with you for feeling this way. I’m here to help you through it.

Understanding and empathy are not permissive parenting. You can set boundaries and limits and still be loving and supportive when they trigger intense emotions in your child. Just as you support your child with physical hurts, it’s just as important to support the emotional hurts.

Your capacity to stay loving and supportive during an upset helps your child to build resiliency and capacity to behave better in the future. Studies have shown that emotional responsiveness strengthens the integrative connections in the brain, helping to bring the prefrontal cortex (the thinking brain) back on-line quicker. As the brain integrates more and more over time, this allows your child to make better choices and to better control her body and emotions.

So there you have it. 3 tips to help you and your child get through the “other” kind of fireworks show. I invite you to start seeing every tantrum as an opportunity to instill this message in your child:

You are loved even when you’re at your worst.
(Don’t we all want that?!)
We’re a team and I’ve got your back!

*Special Note: Some children will not let you get near them when they are upset. (My son is this way; he really needs his space when he’s upset.) You can sit further away or in the doorway and keep letting him know you are there for him, at a distance, until he is ready to be comforted or to re-engage.

Are you and your partner on the same page?

couple fighting PAIDWhen it comes to something as important and intentional as raising children, it’s no wonder that there is often conflict between parents about the best way to go about it.
While it’s not necessary for both parents to have the exact same parenting style; it is better when you can work together in a way that complements each other, rather than  conflicts with each other.  So how do you work through your differences in order to share a common vision, appreciate each other’s strengths, and work together as a team?
To start with, it helps to reframe how you view conflict around parenting and any other areas of your relationship.  Conflict is inevitable, but all those extra layers of suffering we pile on it are not — the name-calling, the aggression, the anger, the shutting-down, the withdrawing.  These are all tragic expressions of unmet needs that we don’t have a clue about how to get met and so we unskillfully add salt to the wound.
Conflicts are actually wonderful opportunities to model for your children how to problem-solve and resolve differences with respect, honesty, and authenticity. These will be life-skills that your children will carry into their own relationships.
The only problem is…this is hard to model for your kids if you didn’t have it modeled for you.  And it’s not like the school system we were educated in taught these skills either.  These kinds of communication and problem-solving skills often have to be learned in adulthood.  But hey, better late than never, right?
Fortunately, I’ve found a way to help couples learn, practice, and hone these skills through a process that I call the Couples Communication Game (CCGame). There are 3 phases to the CCGame:   Phase 1 uses a unique deck of cards which supports each person getting clear on what’s important to them about the situation.  Phase 2 is a process which supports each person feeling fully heard and understood.  In Phase 3,  we problem-solve and learn how to make concrete, doable, positive requests to help each person get closer to what they identified was important in Phase 1.
I’m actually giddy with the results I’ve seen so far and the potential for this Game to be a real “game-changer” in families.
If you would like to explore if this process could help you and your partner “get on the same page,” email me at sherri (at) parentingheart (dot) com.   I’d be happy to tell you more and answer your questions.

Hear what other couples are saying about the CCGame:

“We have attended two different kinds of counseling during the last couple of years but we still continued to have some of the same stresses in our relationship.  The Couples Communication Game was a different approach.  It seemed to get to the core of the matter more easily.  Using the cards, we both felt we were being heard and it gave us a tool to express a need that we maybe would have had difficulty expressing without the cards.  After just 3 sessions with Sherri and the CCGame, we are pleased that on a few occasions we have been successful at a beginner’s level with using the strategies of the Game outside of the sessions.  We would recommend the CCGame to anyone who has a relationship that is important to them.”   — Sarah Keeling and Bob Hayes

“My husband and I did three sessions of the Couples Communication Game with Sherri.  It was a very good experience for us.  We found that working with Sherri as a coach, and using the form of the Couples Communication Game really helped us to jump start working through our differences in a more focused way.  The visual of having the game board and the cards, and having Sherri there as a coach made a huge difference for us.  We didn’t get stuck or stalled by differences of opinion.  We had a neutral, non-judging voice to help us through rough spots.  We had the cards and game to help us when we were stuck about identifying our feelings and needs.  I felt that the structure of this game helped us to zero in on where our conflicts were, and not go off track and get distracted.  Now we can do the game on our own, knowing that we have Sherri as a resource if we get stuck on something.  Thank you, Sherri!”  –Audrey , Decatur, Georgia

“A heartfelt Thank You to an amazing person, friend and coach.  We are so glad that Sherri was there for us during this difficult time and was equipped with just the right professional skills and tools. The Couples Communication Game we worked through with Sherri has made a tremendous difference in our lives. We have been married for only 4 years, but have faced many difficult situations already and were at a point of feeling stuck.  The CCG got us thinking clearer and deeper, listening better to each other’s needs and refreshing and renewing meaningful and deep communication about what truly matters.  Sherri effectively got to the root of things, that we could not have gotten to ourselves.  She guided us through issues and we were able to set realistic, clear and specific resolutions.  We are thankful to know about this great tool which we can use over and over again. We highly recommend this tool not only to people looking for support with communication, but also to anyone looking to refresh relationships and investing in what truly matters.  We could not have asked for a better coach to guide us through this process and can highly recommend Sherri.”  –Jacqueline & Andrew, Atlanta, GA