As there is more and more artificial intelligence (AI) in the world, there is more need than ever for little humans to learn Emotional Intelligence. Play is a tremendous vehicle for one’s own and others’ emotions. Being able to relate emotionally allows kids to function in school more effectively and therefore to be more ready for learning.Read More
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Filtering by Tag: control
I get lots of questions from parents about their kids--parents who don't know how they got where they are and don't know where to go from here. The older your child gets, the more out of control you can feel as a parent.
QUESTION: My 12 year old got so mad at being told (repeatedly) to go to bed that when he slammed the door, it shattered. I am at my wits’ end.
ANSWER: Oh, wow. That must have been so upsetting for you.
Although your instinct might have you wanting to come down hard on him, he needs your love and understanding just as much as a four year old does. I get that that might be really hard for you. A broken door is a big deal and having a kid that wound up feels completely out of control. But here’s the truth: When you get into a physical power struggle with a teenager, chances are he is going to win—which means you lose, which means everyone loses. Even if he is not physically bigger than you are right now, he is smart and can think of a lot of ways to get around you or to infuriate you.
Besides, you don’t want to “win” over your child. You want your child to be happy and expending his energies in positive ways.
The older a child gets, the harder it is for us to be patient and empathetic (He ought to know better, we think). And yet a twelve year old is still a child—a child with hormones racing around inside until he feels he has to explode to feel normal again.
So start with empathy: “I am so sorry you are feeling so upset. It is really scary to feel so out of control. I am guessing that you wouldn’t have reacted so strongly if you felt that your needs were getting met. When you are feeling calmer, we need to brainstorm some solutions that might make everyone happier.”
When everyone is calm, consider having a family meeting. Be ready to do a lot—a lot—of listening. (Click HERE for access to my free ebook on The Family Meeting.) Children who really feel seen and heard calm down enough emotionally to access their prefrontal cortex (where their most creative thinking goes on). Be prepared to make some compromises. Remember, your child is not behaving badly to spite you. He does not want to feel disconnected from you. If he could get what he needs peacefully, he would. It is not too late to work on nonviolent communication. Keep at it, and eventually he will be able to tell you what is so important to him. In the meanwhile, based on my many years of working with middle school kids, here are some things you might guess he needs:
•more responsibility outside of school (chores, being trusted with some money, making decisions about things like where/how to hang the Christmas lights)
•reassurance that you believe in him
•reassurance that you will love him no matter what (even if he breaks the door)
•reassurance that adolescence is a phase; it will get easier and he won’t always feel like this
•recognition that he is a work in progress; you don’t expect him to be perfect
•help reframing his so-called weaknesses into strengths
•understanding that messing up is a chance for learning next time
•lots of praise for what he does well
•appreciation for his contributions outside of his school performance
Use family meetings to engage his critical thinking skills. Present issues as problems that you would like him to help solve. For example, you might say, “Doctors recommend that 12 year olds get 9 to 11 hours of sleep. How are you going to arrange your schedule so that you get enough sleep?” By having him come up with a plan, he is more likely to follow it. If getting to bed on time is an issue, offer a lot of empathy and press for more ideas: “I can see how tempting it is to read one more chapter of your book, and at the same time, a teenager with two hours less sleep than he needs is functioning at the same level as someone who has had two beers. I worry that the rest of your day tomorrow is just going to be that much harder and I want you to have lots of energy. How could we rearrange your day so you have enough time to enjoy reading your book?"
Once your child is calm, brainstorm ways for him to calm down before he gets that out of control (deep breathing, stepping outside for a moment, excusing himself to the bathroom for a few minutes).
It is also time to brainstorm ways to make sure the door gets fixed. Does he have the money to pay for it? If not, how can he earn it? Does he get an allowance? Can it come out of that? When things fall apart and so much damage is done, it is going to take a while to make things right. Through it all, offering your child empathy and your steadfast belief that he has learned from the experience is what will allow him to forgive himself and move on.
Let's go back to how to avoid having a broken door in the first place. When kids get that out of control, chances are something has been building up for some time. I love the family meeting as a structure, because it guarantees that on a weekly basis each family member gets to share three good things. This keeps everyone focusing on the positive. If your child is struggling to find three good things, it is a red flag that that child probably has issues that are overwhelming him. The agenda portion of the family meeting allows each family member to bring up concerns and to brainstorm them together. In this case, Mom might have backed off in the short run, knowing that she could talk about bed time and listening at the family meeting.
My FREE ebook, THE FAMILY MEETING: GET 4 POWERFUL STEPS TO HARMONY AND CALM IN YOUR HOUSE, will guide you through how to optimize the meeting not only for logistics, but more importantly as a tool that helps you honor each child as an individual, giving them time and space to feel seen and heard.
There can be lots of reasons why your child is out of control. What you should do depends on why he is out of control. (For the purpose of simplicity, I am going to address this with the masculine gender, though it could just as easily be a girl who is out of control.)
Is this his first experience with school? These days, Kindergarten can be a real shock for kids who have had not gone to childcare or preschool up until now in their lives. It could just be that he is totally unused to having restrictions placed on him. Other children may have already learned “school” skills like lining up quietly, taking turns, sitting still, listening to the teacher’s directions. If your son has not, start by reassuring him that he will learn these skills and it will get easier and easier to control himself.
If he is not out of control at home, is it because you always accommodate him? Perhaps he has never had to throw a fit to get what he wants, because it has always been easy to give him whatever he wants. Again, sometimes with an only child, a parent does not even realize how often he is giving into his child’s demands because there is no other child making counter demands. If that is the case, although it might make life at home harder in the short run, you can lovingly teach him about limits by beginning to set some expectations. Perhaps you are going to ask him to sit at the grown-up table and turn off the tv during dinner. If he has always eaten in front of the tv, this could be a big battle. That’s okay. Right now, you are trying to teach him that life will not always be arranged just as he would like it to be. Just offer him lots of sympathy that it is hard when expectations change but assure him that you are looking forward to having him at the table so that there can be pleasant conversation at dinner. If he has a tantrum, stay with him, empathize that change is hard and keep repeating that it will get easier. The day will come when he will sit happily at the table and share in the dinner conversation. Learning to do this at home will help him to learn to do it at school.
Kids can also lose control at school because they are overstimulated. Again, if he has not been in a group setting before, the shear number of kids could be overloading his system. Or the noise. Or the lights of the classroom. Or the many transitions. Talk to your son. Say, “You seem to be having a hard time controlling yourself at school. Why is that?” If he has a clear answer, go to the solution phase. Talk with his teacher and get her input on ways to give your son some relief. Ideas might include permission to go to a quiet corner, to step outside, or to find a desk that is away from everyone else (or at least is together with quieter students). Some teachers might allow him to wear ear plugs or ear buds (that aren’t attached to anything) if noise is an issue. If light is an issue, maybe he can work underneath his desk. Keep trying different solutions until you find one that allows him to remain in class without over loading.
Does your child lean towards anxiety? This could be another reason he is out of control at school. If this is the case, yelling and running around may be an effort to calm his nervous system. He can learn to replace out-of-control outbursts with other calming, anxiety reducing techniques like deep breathing, closing his eyes, squeezing a ball or stuffed animal. At home you can help him by training him to be able to imagine a calm, safe space so that he can call that image up in his mind when he gets stressed at school.
If none of these possible reasons for his out of control behavior feel right, see if you can get permission from the teacher to observe him at school some day. Just sit in the back of the room and take notes. Write down the time and what you see in language that is neutral as possible (ie, what any objective observer would, not what his loving mother would intuit). Share these observation notes with the teacher and principal of your son’s school. They are experienced professionals and this data will help them make recommendations tailored to your son.