Life gets hectic, especially with a little one testing limits, learning about life and developing his or her own sense of self. Your child is rapidly developing right in front of you… full of precious (and hilarious moments) and those frustrating, irrational ones. Through my work with children, parents and specialization in child development, I’ve put together a list of quick go to’s for any parent who might struggle with behavioral difficulties, emotional inconsistencies and maintaining a balanced lifestyle with busy, developing children.
1) Start with yourself. Take deep breaths. Deep, intentional breathing calms the nervous system and will improve your ability to slow down and stay in the moment with your child.
2) Be proactive – make sure bedtimes are consistent, think about whether your child has had enough food or has gone too long between snacks. Low blood sugar impairs their ability to make good decisions and decreases impulse control.
3) Laugh more – look for opportunities to find the humor in the situation. Children pick up on your stress. The more you have, the more they will have. Most situations are not a matter of life and death–although they may very well be important, sometimes it’s just better to let go and give yourself some grace that everything will be ok.
4) “Move it to lose it” – a great strategy developed by Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Bryson helps your child calm down by re-directing him or her to do something with their body (rub their belly and pat their head at the same time, jumping jacks, down dog yoga pose, etc.). This can be used in situations when you sense your child will need help calming down, however, is not meant to discourage their expression of feelings;just a helpful tool to re-direct and help them learn how to calm down on their own.
5) Cut out processed foods and sugars (this includes store bought juices that are high in sugar content!). Processed foods for children will disrupt their natural production of insulin, causing their blood sugar to rise and fall. This results in emotional disregulation, fatigue and interferes with their limited ability to control impulses, which can lead to a false diagnosis of ADD or ADHD. Here’s a great resource if you are interested in how you can do this: www.100daysofrealfood.com
6) Set consistent limits with consistent privileges and consequences so they know what to expect. You do not need to be perfect at this, but consistency early will cut down on both you and your child’s frustration level. Set up rituals or calendars of expectations and help your child develop their own sense of control by engaging them in the process.
7) Try not to over-use the word “no” and be specific when you have a command. Kids learn to block out words that are repeated too much. Let “no” be a boundary that your child understands has a natural consequence (loss of favorite toy, playtime, TV time, etc).
8) Make it a habit to make eye contact with your child when you are giving a command, it will cut down on the number of times you have to say it over and over, which will in turn cut down on your frustration with sounding like a broken record. For young children, eye contact, plus touch is the best for producing positive results.
9) Be affectionate always. Even if it has been a rough day, all your little one needs is constant affirmation that they are the apple of your eye.
10) Spend time outside as much as possible (when the heat will allow). Burning off excess energy, soaking up Vitamin D and breathing fresh air will be good for the both of you.
11) Focus on your child’s experience rather than the facts. Often times our version of what happened interferes with what others are needing in that moment. Resist the urge to argue the facts and redirect your attention to the feeling your child is trying to communicate. For example: Resistance could mean “I’m afraid,” or “I’m nervous.”
12) If you’re a parent of 2 or more, make arrangements to spend time with your kids one-on-one. This doesn’t have to be for hours at a time, 30-minutes here or an hour there can be enough to let your child know that they are special and have your undivided attention. Get creative with this one!
13) Strengthen your marriage or relationship with your partner. This one could quite possibly be one of the most important. If you have any unresolved conflicts, high amounts of emotional tension or are having difficulty communicating with one another, your child will soak up the anxiety and display it behaviorally.
14) Highlight your child’s unique strengths. Using a strengths focus approach to parenting not only helps build your child’s sense of worth and self-esteem, it also helps them learn how to use their skills to their benefit.
15) Tell stories. One of the most effective ways to help your child calm down, prepare for a new transition or make sense of a scary event is to help them tell the story of what happened or what will happen. You can do this by going over (age appropriate) stages of the event, what happened, how he or she felt and then what happened (or what will happen) that made everything better. This helps young children piece together both their emotions and events in a way that gives them understanding and prevents stress due to confusion or fear of something unknown.
DEFINE’s Emotional Wellness Expert, Jessica Pass, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Instructor at DEFINE body&mind. She has a private practice in Houston, Texas, specializing with children, adolescents, individuals, couples and parents. Jessica’s approach incorporates mind-body integration, education and practical strategies to improve emotional wellness, emphasizing all aspects of who we are to live fully and thrive in our relationships.