What to do when your child is acting out? This can be a very frustrating part of parenting, as a parenting coach I’ve seen this many times. Here are my 5 key tips for what to do when your child is acting out:
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Do any of these situations resonate with you?
- It’s nearly bedtime and your child refuses to brush his teeth.
- You’re in a rush and they won’t let you buckle their seatbelt.
- They throw the sweets on the floor because all the red sweets in the packet are gone and no other colour will do!
Have you ever had that sense that you’ve just had enough? You can feel your blood pressure rising and you know you’re likely to lose your cool! Being a parent can sometimes be the most frustrating job in the world!
At times when your young child is acting out, especially when you’re under pressure, it’s easy to react in a way that leads to an even bigger meltdown. You resort to grumbling, scolding, threatening or telling them they’re “naughty” or “bold”, even though you know that’s not the solution.
The question almost every parent asks is,
“How do I deal with my child’s challenging behaviour without losing my cool?”
Here are five key tips that can help get things back on an even keel when your family is heading towards a stormy patch.
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Your Child Is Acting Out – What Now?
#1. Remember the ABC and Focus on Your Breathing
Unless it’s an emergency situation where you need to react to keep someone safe, take a moment to:
Acknowledge what’s going on for you.
Breathe and choose Calm.
Acknowledge – Breathe – Calm
When you feel your own anger or anxiety rising, focus on slowing and steadying your breathing. When you steady your breathing, it creates a moment to pause. It gives you the chance to stand back from your own strong emotions, and to steady your thoughts. Then you can notice what’s needed.
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#2. Respond Rather Than React
Think of “react” as in a knee-jerk reaction – instant and without thinking. In any situation, you have a split second to determine whether this is an emergency – where you need to react to ensure safety – or whether to pause and assess what is most helpful.
In most situations, except for emergency concerns, rather than react, it is more helpful to respond in a way that gives your child the message, “I’m following you,” “I’m here for you.” For example, if you react by saying “Don’t be bold” or ’Don’t do that” your child does not understand what they need to do differently, so they are likely to continue with the same behaviour.
When you respond, rather than react, you take a moment to first think about how this is for the child. Then you can follow the child’s lead you gain insight into what their behaviour telling you.
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#3. Your Child’s Behaviour is About Them, Your Response is About You
When your child acts out, they are trying to let you know something is “not ok”. It doesn’t mean you are a “bad parent”. At times when children act out in public, like in the shopping centre, it’s easy to feel mortified by their behaviour and then we can easily react, rather than calmly figure out how best to handle the situation.
If you let your thoughts run away with, “What will other people think?” you won’t be able to follow your child’s lead and you won’t recognise what your child’s behaviour is trying to tell you. Remember the other person’s behaviour is about them and their needs. Your response is about you!
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#4. Only Say “No” When You Absolutely Have To
Believe your child is capable. Give opportunities – and unobtrusive help if needed – to develop their competence. For example, often we stop play if it looks a little unsafe but when we do this we may be giving a message,
“You aren’t able to do that. You are not big enough. Strong enough. You are not able to figure this out. You are not competent.”
Look for how you can say “Yes!” – by your actions as well as your words. Instead of saying “No, stop that,” assess whether this is ok. Or find ways to redirect. For instance, when your child is jumping on the furniture, rather than saying, “No, don’t do that,” ask yourself if that “no” is really necessary. And if you choose to set that limit, recognise the energy they are trying to work off and think how you can rephrase and redirect:
“Yes, you love jumping. Let’s put the cushions on the floor and you can jump there!”
Or “Yes, you love jumping! Let’s go out to the trampoline.”
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#5. Recognise a Challenging Incident Is Also An Opportunity
An incident can be a learning opportunity for your child and it may also be an opportunity for insight for yourself as parent.
It can be a chance to better understand your child; to discover what matters to them, what creates connection and builds your child’s self-esteem – what does help, what doesn’t and what’s needed.
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These five tips are adapted from my new parenting book “Baby and Toddler On Board – Mindful Parenting when a New Baby Joins the Family”. In my book you’ll discover three core principles, as well as helpful insights and practical tips, on how to respond to young children. You can order your Kindle copy on Amazon now!
Have your say! What do you do when your child is acting out? And what helps you get yourself and your child back on an even keel? Leave a comment below and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!