Tantrums and angry children are downright exhausting and frustrating. Let me help you learn how to handle children’s challenging behavior using positive discipline.
We first have to go back to the basics of positive parenting and remember: It is not our job as the parents to control the child.
If you are unfamiliar with positive discipline, start here: Basics of Positive Discipline
Attempts to control children, especially when they are angry, creates more problems and power struggles.
It is best to allow the child to feel whatever emotion they are feeling, even in public.
A lot of the time we hold children to very high standards when dealing with difficult situations or emotions.
But the reality is that young children are not able to express anger or frustration the way that we adults are able to. They simply do not have the skill or maturity yet.
This is why many adults view angry children as misbehaving children. When in fact, they are just struggling with handling these difficult emotions.
And to be honest, a lot of adults still have a difficult time properly expressing these emotions in a healthy way.
What We Can Do When Children Are Angry
The best thing we can do for our children is to remain calm through the situation. I know this can be very difficult to do sometimes. Remember it is not about perfection, but progress when starting this new way of disciplining our children.
It has been studied that children rely on mirror neurons to perceive physical action, facial expressions, and emotions and then the brain duplicates what it sees.
So when you are feeling angry, anxious, or excited your child’s mirror neurons will catch those same emotions and create a similar feeling in your child. Or vice versa.
Mirror neurons are the reason why it is so important that you understand what you do is so much more powerful than what you say.
If you need to remove yourself from the situation before you lose it, simply communicate to your child that you need a moment alone. You can say “Mommy is going to cool off in her bedroom for a few minutes. I am feeling very angry right now.” Then as long as your child is in a safe environment to be briefly left alone, continue on into your room.
Taking that pause to regain control over yourself will empower you to handle trying situations with patience and love instead of anger and punishment.
After all, the only person that we can control is ourselves.
When we are angry, our prefrontal cortex disconnects leaving us unable to think clearly and logically. This is kind of a big deal because the prefrontal cortex is responsible for emotional regulation, impulse control, and good judgment. Pretty important stuff!
Always offer a hug and allow the emotions to be processed. This teaches your child that they will survive challenging situations and are still worthy of your love.
Children display their sense of feelings through many different ways, talking, crying, tantrums, screaming, whining, and even nonverbal cues.
Resist the urge to try and stop their expressions. Even when they are unpleasant. Observe and listen to what they are trying to communicate, then validate their feelings.
Just because you validate the feelings does not mean you have to agree with them. You are allowing your child to feel these emotions and process them appropriately.
I grew up always being told not to be sad hearing the famous line “why are you crying” or “there’s no need to cry”. Even to this day, I have a hard time expressing my emotions correctly.
Often times a lot of parents will downplay an injury to limit the crying after the fact. But why? Why is it so wrong for them to express their pain? Reassure the child that you understand the pain. Try saying “Gee that looks like it really hurts, would you like some ice?”. Instead of “You’re okay, brush it off. You are a tough girl/boy.”
“You seem like your sad about being ignored by the other children.” Instead of “Why don’t you find someone else to play with.”
“You look like you are having a lot of fun playing with Kate. You are feeling disappointed that we have to stop playing.” Instead of “It is time for us to go home to take our nap.”
Behavior Is Communication
According to Michigan Alliance For Families, all behavior, positive or negative, is a form of communication with others.
Typically we see a misbehaving child and think “Wow that mom need’s to get a grip on that situation.” But we should really be thinking “Wow that child is having a difficult time, I wonder what she needs right now.”
By changing the way we think about misbehavior, we change our reaction to it.
When a child has challenging behavior she is communicating that there is an unmet need. It could be that she is hungry, sad, scared, hurt, tired, or even angry and she isn’t able to put those feelings into words. Some children even act out because they feel a lack of control or need to fulfill a sensory sensation.
Before you react to challenging behavior, try your best to figure what the cause is.
Developing a child’s emotional literacy encourages healthy mental and physical health throughout their lives. It is an important skill to be able to express one’s feelings from the time we are young children to grown adults.
Now in the early stages of development, this means teaching basic emotions such as happy, sad, mad, excited, afraid, upset, worried, etc. The best way to do this is to show them pictures of containing these emotions and asking them what they see.
At first, it may be difficult for children to read these emotions correctly. You can assist them by encouraging them to look at the facial expressions and body language presented in the pictures.
If we can help our children master this skill, they will be much more successful communicating with others leading to healthier relationships throughout their lives.
Let Go Of Control
If you find your child frequently not listening to you. Ask yourself are you setting realistic boundaries?
Are these boundaries important to protect their safety or health? Or are you just setting these boundaries because you expect your child to listen to what you have to say?
Maybe it is time to reevaluate why your children need to listen to your commands 100% of the time.
I remember when I was younger I would question some of the boundaries that were placed upon me. More times than not the response would be “Because I am the parent and you are the child.” The result would be a power struggle. I didn’t understand the reasoning behind the limitation and my mother wanted my obedience just because.
The need for control has crept into my own parenting journey and I despise it. When I catch myself falling into this trap, I do my best to question the limits I am placing. If they are unnecessary and based on convenience, I let them go.
Our children are their own person which means they have their own interests, desires, and motivations. Even in their youngest days.
Majority of the battles causing your child to get angry in the first place probably links back to control.
Take a step back and ask yourself if you are guiding your childing or dictating their actions?
Consistency Is Key
We all know that one family that acts like they have strict rules one day and then the next its whatever is convenient at the time.
Children need consistency and routine in order to feel confident and secure in their environment.
Take a moment to figure out what are your must-have rules. Most families create rules around safety, health, and time.
The simpler your rules are, the more likely that you will be able to consistently enforce them.
Remember, it should not be our goal to set unnecessary boundaries on our children. Our rules should help guide our children in the right direction in life.
There is nothing easy or convenient about being consistent.
It takes up more time, more energy, and forces you to be a mindful parent.
But the tradeoff is worth it.
When we give in to a certain undesired behavior we are actually reinforcing it to continue. We end up being the enablers.
When we demonstrate consistency, the child knows what is expected and understands the natural consequences.
Create A Cool-Off Area
Punitive time outs are a very popular parenting technique. Positive discipline uses a positive time out referred to as a cool-down area. Establishing a safe and positive area that your child can revert to when dealing with difficult emotions helps provide a sense of security.
This method is most effective for children over 3 years old. If they are younger, you can start by teaching about the cool-off area by going with them.
The key is that this area should remain positive for your child. Make it cozy with items your child enjoys.
Refrain from sending them away to this spot and forcing them to stay for long periods of time. You can offer it with another option so they do not feel forced.
When my husband and I started implementing this technique, it took us a while for us to stop insisting our child go to her cool down area. After catching ourselves many times we have trained ourselves to simply invite her to take a break and cool-off.
If she decides she does not want to do that than I offer a hug and just sit with her until the emotions have passed. During this time I sportscast the situation and validate her feelings.
Like I mentioned above, sometimes I need to cool-off myself for a few minutes when we are having a difficult time understanding each other.
Things To Avoid When Using Cool-Off Area “Timeouts”
- Demanding the child sits still for long periods without moving
- Forcing the child to go away
- Making a child put their nose in a corner
- Humiliating child in front of others
- Nagging and reprimanding after the situation is over
Learning how to handle challenging behavior respectfully with our children can make parenting a lot less stressful and more enjoyable. After a while, you will start to see your child respond to your changes.
I hope you consider these tips the next time you are faced with challenging behavior. I know Mama it is not easy to handle.
By no means am I saying this will be an easy transition. For years we have watched how our parents and other adults handle these situations and learned from there.
But implementing these techniques along with the ideology behind positive discipline can transform your parenting journey as well as your relationship with your children.