I have had the pleasure of working with Laura Karl and we share a similar belief system when it comes to tantrums. I am honoured to share her guest blog post with you.
How to respond to tantrums: a Holistic Life Coach’s perspective
Through my work at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, I have learned many many therapeutic interventions, but the most powerful one that I’ve learned through my Holistic Life Coaching practice and motherhood that can bring both the parent and child immediate relief is “holding the space”. When a child was in a full emotional meltdown, screaming and saying things they don’t mean, the only effective thing I could do in that moment was to find my centre, drop into my heart, be still, be calm, and just be there for the child. I would sit next to them and stay calm for the both of us.
I heard a great story tonight from one of my many life teachers. He told me a story about his dogs. He and his partner have 5 little dogs which they adore, but they like to bark for reasons they sometimes have no idea. He explained that he would respond by yelling back at them “hey stop it!”, “get back here”. Eventually, they went to a dog trainer for advice. The dog trainer told them that by yelling at them, you are essentially barking at them and they get the message from their pack leader that it is okay to bark. What the dogs actually need is a softer pack leader to stay calm so that they can return to a state of calm.
Now children obviously aren’t exactly like dogs, but the premise is the same. My child is still very young and although I am getting better at seeing the meltdown warning signs, it still seems to happen in the blink of an eye. In those moments when you observe their mood start to change and you’ve tried your best to keep the environment neutral, but a full on meltdown is already happening, the only thing you can do is hold the space. We parents want so badly to take the pain away for our children, which is a natural and very caring response. However, you can’t fight fire with fire right? Or all you are left with is fire! Get out of your head which is likely spinning with trying to figure this out, or to come up with solutions to make it stop, or wishing that this wasn’t happening yet again. Remember, kids are terrified of these feelings. They don’t want this any more than you do. So support them by taking a breath, dropping into your heart and finding your center, and just be there.
Okay parents, this takes practice! It’s not like you’re on some beach in Maui breathing in the salty fresh air, there is a child screaming in distress next to you. It’s like building any muscle and you have to work on it to get stronger. In those moments make sure the child is in a safe place, and then take a breath. Let the urge to fix or “bark back” wash over you – trust me, it will pass. Observe that urge, and then release it. You literally can feel the air change. In this moment, the most effective thing you can do is hold the space for your child. When they are ready, they will themselves release those emotions and be embraced by your calmness, lovingness, and peacefulness. Now breathe and give them and you a big hug.
Laura Karl, mother, Holistic Life Coach, Registered Nurse
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A few weeks ago I was out with our youngest and was approached by someone who was questioning if our son hit the boy she was caring for. She actually questioned my 3 year old and not me. I was taken back. I did not know how to respond. I made sure our son was okay and reassured the caregiver that I would look into it.
After speaking with our 3-year-old, it was pretty obvious to me that he did not hit the other child. Now having said that, I understand he may not want to admit that to me. I spoke with the teacher and she did not witness any hitting; however, our son has an amazing imagination. Around this time he was enjoying acting like a “Ninja” (Thank-you to Disney’s Justin Time) or “Superhero”. He would swing his arms but did not make contact. This led us to a conversation about safe places to act like a ninja or superhero (watch out if you come to our house, a ninja may be present!).
I then got to thinking, what is the proper etiquette in situations like this? So I contacted an Etiquette Consultant, Maria Doll from Leadership Matters.
What to do when your child gets accused of wrongdoing…
You’re at playgroup with your son/daughter and having a wonderful time visiting with other parents while enjoying the budding friendships between the preschoolers. Then all of a sudden…POP! The happy bubble gets burst by a dismayed grandparent who accuses your child of hitting their grandchild. Immediately, you question your child and they adamantly deny doing such a thing. What to do next???
Before letting tempers get out of hand, take a step back and realize that children even as young as 3 or 4 yrs old will tell fibs or even outright lies. Sometimes the fib is just part of their imaginative play and is quite innocent. For example, my son loved Spiderman. One day, he happened to mention over lunch time how after being bitten by a spider he had the power to levitate to the next floor of our house. He said this in all seriousness!
Apart from the fantasies, sometimes children will lie to please us. For example, they will tell us that they ate everything on their plate. But we can see that it’s not true.
As they mature, young children will begin to make the distinction between truth and fiction. They will try lying to get themselves out of experiencing unpleasant consequences. It’s wise not to overreact as we don’t want them to become adept at being dishonest.
A parent or even grandparent who says their child would never lie isn’t living in reality. In the case of the playgroup incident, the grandparent was not sure who to believe. If there were no witnesses to corroborate, the grandparent shouldn’t be accusing you or your child. A better approach would be to say something like, “My grandchild told me that your son hit him. Now, I’m not accusing your son. I’m just trying to find out what happened.” This helps to keep emotions under control and doesn’t make it personal. Hopefully, both of you can figure out what happened and clear the air, as necessary. Is one guilty or do both share some of the blame?
Perhaps the grandchild is trying to get some needed attention from his grandparent. So he made up a whopper to get just that. Often, parents/caregivers are completely wrapped up in their smart phones that their children are ignored at playgroups as well as playgrounds. This may have been the case.
For the good of the group, you should avoid getting into a debate especially if the grandparent becomes belligerent. Say something like, “Well, I don’t know what to say. I’ll speak to my son again about proper behavior at playgroup.” Leave it that and walk away. If you respond in any manner that sounds accusatory of the other woman’s grandchild, it’s a No Win situation. Maybe she’s right and your child did take a bit of a swat at the boy. Later on, when everything calms down, try gently questioning your child to get their perspective on what happened.
These are trying moments as parents and none of us like to see our children being accused of wrongdoing particularly if they are innocent. However, see these moments as teachable times to form the important virtue of honesty. Reward honesty whenever you see it in your children.
Thank you, Maria Doll for your wonderful insight!
Phew! I did use the proper etiquette. After looking into the incident a bit further I spoke with the caregiver again and explained what I had discovered. I also kindly asked that she speak with me directly in the future as my son was quite upset and scared. She was so apologetic and we have moved forward. Next step is to get these 2 boys together at their own playdate!
Last week I was beginning to panic about not having summer activities planned out. I was frantically looking for activities to sign our 2-year-old son up for and trying to come up with ideas for our 14-year-old. Then I came across an article about the importance unstructured outside play. This article reassured me that my original decision to take it one day at a time and not be over programmed was a good choice.
So we have embarked on a summer where we “Fly by the Seat of our Pants.” Last Friday my little man stated he wanted to see a train. Fast forward one hour and we were sitting on the CTrain heading downtown with no destination in mind. Then we landed at the zoo where he was able to run around in the dinosaur area. We then turned around and went home via the train. It was liberating to go with the flow. Seeing the smile on my son’s face was awesome. The best part was when it was nap time it took a grand total of 2 minutes for him to fall asleep.
Yes, we do have a vague plan. For instance, we know we will be going to visit relatives. I have brainstormed a number of activities we can do. I will be making an activity jar for the days I cannot decide what to do that day. I will simply put a number of activities on pieces of paper in a jar. The day I cannot decide to the jar I go!!!
Some of the ideas of activities for our youngest is as follows:
- explore the neighbourhood
- feed the ducks
- indoor pools
- spray parks
- check out the many playgrounds in Calgary and surrounding areas
- visit Butterfield Acres (awesome interactive farm for children)
- backyard play
- visit the zoo
- bubble play
- throwing rocks in a stream or river
- water play with hoses and sprinklers
I then had another awesome realization!! I do not need to be the entertainment squad when my 14-year-old is here. He is an awesome young man that will follow along with his little brother if he chooses too. He is great at finding things to do. If he cannot, I will have a list of chores waiting for him! (A very easy way to encourage a teen to keep busy). I will admit he loves electronics but limits are a good thing!
My goal is to engage in as many child-directed play activities as possible. In a previous post, I explained how to engage in child-directed play. I am constantly amazed at how inventive and imaginative young ones can be when given the chance.
For example, we went to Spruce Meadows for the National Show Jumping event yesterday. We were in the line for our youngest to ride a pony. I originally thought it was going to be a painful wait. He kept himself (and me) entertained by running around (literally in circles), playing with some children he just met, picking grass, and then he starting practicing his gymnastics. I am so happy that I have made the choice not to worry about keeping my youngsters entertained all summer and refocused my plan to having fun and enjoying them as much as I can.
My wish for you is that you get to take time out for yourself and find things to do that work for you and your family.
My little toddler started an un-parented class in December 2013. I was panicked the first day I brought him to the class. I was prepared for him to have a hard time transitioning as this was the first time he was alone in an unfamiliar environment. He walked into the room said, “bye” and I left. He did not bat an eyelash. He was happy to go play. That was easy for him. ( I cried as soon as I sat in the van). This happened for 4 weeks, no issues at all. He would simply run into the classroom.
Week 5, he went into the room without issue but, he started to cry when we walked away. (Daddy was with me.) The teacher had reported that he cried for a few minutes and then he was distracted by his peers. He was happy when Daddy picked him up.
Then the next week he did not want to go in and he cried. He held onto to me, and the teacher had to pull him off me. I kept it together (how I am not sure) until I was out of his sight. I cried in the stairwell. When I went to pick him up I could hear him laughing and having fun.
After speaking to the teacher, I discovered that there were no major changes in the program (the teacher had changed but that was weeks before) and that he was not having issues with any of his peers. He was not expressing any concerns about the classroom.
The only thing that had changed was that he was potty training. BINGO! He hit a developmental milestone that changed things for him.
It has been 4 weeks of the separation anxiety issues. He still struggles with going in the room; however, the teacher does not have to pull him off me. I can pass him to her with some minor whimpers. This is a work in progress. I am confident it will continue to get better.
So what did I do to help reduce his anxiety? Here are some of the tips I used:
- Remain calm I did not let him see me get emotional. I remained as calm as possible.
- Consistency I remained consistent. I took the same shoes for him, followed our regular routine before class, and then I used the same reassuring words, “Mommy will see you soon.”
- Transitional object I gave him part of my key chain to put in his pocket and gave him a business card to put in his other pocket. He now requests the items before he goes into the classroom.
- Don’t rush away when the program is done. I take a few minutes to sit with him and listen while he tells me about his class. This way I can ask the teacher what he did that day and talk it up all week.
The main thing to remember when you are going through a similar situation is that this too shall pass. Separation issues can be a normal part of development.
I often tell parents that separation issues are a sign of a good attachment. It can be hard to not just take your child and leave for the day. I believe this is a teachable moment and a great opportunity for you to show your son or daughter how to cope in similar situations.
Hang in there. This behaviour should get better with time and consistency.
Keep on smiling and hug your kids!