Written by Kristin Greco, MSW & Edited by Madia Javid-Yazdi, M.Ed.
Years ago, when my daughter “graduated” from her toddler music class, the instructor painted the bottom of her foot in black ink and gently pressed it against her certificate to stamp it. I fondly remember the instructor remark my daughter had “sturdy feet that would guide her through life. ”I studied the unique black lines of the ink, wondered what kind of mark my child might leave on the world; and how would I help guide the influence of her footprint?
I believe we idealize teaching or parenting children before, during, and after we live through the experience of it. What contributes to this idealization? Perhaps, our society has created a rigid expectation or “mold” as to how children ought to learn and behave in school, at home, and outside of these structures. We also tend to omit the non-glamourous pages or chapters that encompass the book of parenthood and our children’s natural and ongoing developmental experiences.
Children’s brains have not reached the point of development where they should/can be expected to consistently respond in a calm or “rational way” to situations that push their buttons. (In fact, research shows our brains are not fully developed until our mid to late twenties.) So, children may become distraught when they learn for the tenth time they can’t eat ice cream for breakfast, or they must not wear sandals in the snow! They may also become distressed at school when they are reminded to sit still and all their little bodies want to do is move.
We are left dumbfounded by our teaching or parenting methods when we experience the inevitable moments/situations our children do not fit the “mold” — even as the majority of children do not. Too often, we compare one child to another and overlook the intricate and distinctive lines in their footprint.
My own ability to self-regulate can be challenged when my child is highly emotional — or as I may interpret in the moment — acting “irrational.” I am forced to remind myself my child doesn’t always have the tools to self-soothe. Most of the time, the response that presents as anger is a secondary emotion. Although the presenting behaviour looks like anger or may be labeled as anger by the child, the primary or underlying emotions are commonly sadness, anxiety, fear, loss of control, embarrassment, or other uncomfortable feelings that a developing brain cannot always identify or express in an adaptive way.
As adults, the way we choose to respond to our children largely determines their emotional response and ability to self-regulate. Instead of joining the child in a highly emotional state, try to model to the child that you are in control of your emotions. To achieve this:
|INSTEAD OF SAYING||YOU CAN TRY|
|“Calm down”||>||“How can I help you?”|
|“Stop crying”||>||“I can see this is hard for you”|
|“You’re okay”||>||“Are you okay?”|
|“Be quiet”||>||“Can you use a softer voice?”|
|“Don’t hit”||>||“Please be gentle”|
|“Stop yelling”||>||“Take a deep breath, then tell me what happened”|
|“That’s enough”||>||“Do you need a hug?”|
|“I’m over this”||>||“I’m here for you”|
|“Don’t get upset”||>||“It’s okay to feel sad”|
When our voices escalate and we suppress children’s emotions and behavioural responses by saying, “stop” or “that’s enough,” children may receive the message that what/how they are expressing themselves is not important, or they are not in control of their emotions; and the adult cannot or does not want to help them to feel calm. This can cause children to feel more escalated, out of control, and possibly fearful of their own feelings.
The majority of children will never fit the idealized mold. Through our acceptance and accommodation of their unique needs, our children will learn to be resilient, empathic, and will feel loved for what will be internalized as their perfect imperfections.
Remember, it takes time, practice and a lot of trial and error before adequate self-regulation is learned. This process is different for all children and adults.
Language Alternatives source: rockitmama.com