About Me

I am a parent coach. I received my MSW from Simmons School of Social Work and have been a licensed social worker practicing in the greater Boston area for over 20 years. My dream has always been to work with parents on the most important job in their lives. In my practice and in my blog I want parents to be heard, supported and informed in order to feel empowered to be effective as parents. I love helping parents find joy and mastery in their parenting.

"Stop trying to perfect your child, but keep trying to perfect your relationship with him" - Dr. Henker

Sunday, July 28, 2013

In the Heat of the Moment

In my last post I addressed some of the reasons behind tantrums, and stressed the importance of parents using whatever strategies work for them, of staying calm in the moment.

Knowing that we can’t always achieve the ideal calm in stressful moments, one of the other approaches that can help is to plan ahead for those inevitable tantrums or other embarrassing parenting moments!

I want to stress that when I present specific techniques, that every child is unique, and that each family has their own culture around appropriate behavior and limit setting techniques.  Some children have behavioral problems due to sensory issues or other challenging neurological or emotional challenges.  There is no “right way” that works for every family, or every situation.  I will present some strategies that are often effective, but I recommend seeking specific help, tailored to your own child/children when behavioral challenges occur frequently, and you begin to feel helpless, overly frustrated and angry, and parenting begins to feel overwhelming.

There are two main tools for different tantrum scenarios.  First is “an ounce of prevention…”
When tantrums are happening frequently, we can employ curiosity. Pay attention to whether they are happening at specific times or situations.  Is your child always having a tantrum in the late afternoon?  Is it possible she is hungry and could use a regular snack at that time?  Is it possible she is very tired, and quiet activities like a bath, or reading a story, would help her better cope in that time before dinner? 

Does your child always have a tantrum when you are at the grocery store?  Is it possible to get the groceries you need without taking her with you for a while?  There are inexpensive, easy to use, grocery delivery services like Peapod or Roche Brothers Delivery here in Massachusetts.  Is it possible to get the shopping done at a time the child is in preschool, or at a play date?  Is it possible that the child is often hungry or tired at the time you usually shop?  Can you have a snack available, or change the time accordingly?

The general idea here is to see if there is a structural problem you could change to reduce the likelihood of the tantrum.  Sometimes we don’t notice patterns because life is so hectic, but if we step back and apply some analysis, are there things in our control we can do to prevent tantrums?

Unfortunately, we can’t possibly use prevention all the time, tantrums often occur spontaneously, at random, and we don’t have the ability to use prevention as a strategy.

In that second case I turn to the familiar motto: “Be prepared.” We can take control of the situation by deciding on strategies ahead of time for tantrums, to use in the heat of the moment.  When a child is already screaming at the top of their lungs at the library, our faces are red and we are feeling helpless and mortified, its hard to calm down and think of an effective strategy.  If we have thought it up ahead, we can just plug it in-and it has the added positive effect of consistency for the child.  When they know what to expect from us, and it is consistent “enough” (see blog post February 22, 2013)) of the time, it always helps!

In my experience, as a general rule, when a tantrum occurs in a public place and it is feasible to leave, do so.  If a child begins a tantrum at the grocery store, a parent or caregiver can say, in as calm and brief a way as possible, “I see you’re upset (angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed….), we can’t scream at the grocery store (in the library, at church, mosque or synagogue, at a birthday party.), if you can’t calm down by the time I count to 10, we have to leave.”  If its something that happens frequently you can just say that the first time and in the future, just say, “no screaming in the_____, we have to leave.”  They will get the message if we follow through consistently.  It is better not to say, “we will leave”, if you can’t or won’t be able to follow through on it.  If we threaten to leave, and then don’t, children get the message that we don’t really intend to do it, and it doesn’t become a deterrent for the behavior.

If the tantrum happens at home, it is also best to have a plan for how you want to deal with it, in a way that is effective for your child in the culture of your family.  I strongly believe that it helps to first empathize with the feeling that may be behind the tantrum.  Even if it feels like an empty exercise at first, your child will be getting the message that they are “seen” and “heard”.  Again, it is always best to be brief and to the point, “You are angry that you can’t have that candy bar.  I know it feels yucky, and we need to use our words, not screaming and kicking” Then depending on what strategies work best for you or your child you can, ask them to go to their room or other safe space until they can calm down. You can hold them, if that is feasible, while they calm down.  You can give them some strategies you know in the past have helped them calm down, saying, “you can hold your soft rabbit toy, you can squeeze the stress ball….”

It is important to know that “time outs” can be effective both for children and for parents or caregivers.  If you are at home, or in a place where it is safe to leave your child alone for a few minutes to calm down, you can say, “mommy needs to take a time out” and step away and do something soothing for yourself.  As always, safety is the top priority, so you can only employ this strategy if your child will be safe if you leave them momentarily.

There are no parenting strategies that are “one size fits all”, but if we hone in on our children’s behavior with curiosity and creativity we can develop specific strategies that help us manage tantrums in way that is effective “enough” of the time!

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