What are the 3 most common parenting mistakes when dealing with a meltdown or out-of-control behavior?
Expert: Dr. Jed Baker, Author of No More Meltdowns
1. Taking it personally
There are three types of misinterpretations that parents might make that cause them to lose control. One is to think that your child is purposely trying to challenge your authority. What’s really the case is the kid doesn’t have the skills yet to deal with the situation. So it’s not just a battle of control. It’s really about teaching your kid how to handle a tough situation. Secondly, parents sometimes take what their kids are doing quite personally, as if they’re not a good parent. They’re worried what the public is seeing and their concern is the public might think they’re not a good parent, because their child is acting out. But that might fuel more anger and frustration for a parent and actually causes them, the parent, to act out even more and fuel even more of the embarrassment. A third error is to expect your kids to be perfect, to not anticipate that meltdowns are just a part of childhood. It’s not a buck to our authority; it’s just a typical thing that kids do. Instead of reacting emotionally, we can think about what we are doing and anticipate when those problems are going to occur and prevent them. Or you can go into “emergency management mode” and distract kids rather than engaging in a battle with them. Try to soothe and distract them and get their mind off of it.
2. Having a default punishment for every problem
Having time out or taking away a privilege doesn’t work for all situations, just like it wouldn’t work to treat all medical problems exactly the same way. It all depends on what’s causing the behavior. For example, if a kid is frustrated with their homework, time out doesn’t make sense. Does it solve the problem? No, this is a kid might need more help with their homework and is struggling with his or her self-esteem. So think about not only how to get help with the homework but also how to help the kid feel okay about not knowing how to do it. Help them understand that at this time of learning you’re not supposed to know everything. That’s more important than punishing someone.
3. Ignoring patterns and triggers
We need to be proactive. How we do that is by figuring out what the trigger to the problem is, why it’s happening, then come up with a plan. Some of the main triggers are hunger and tiredness, too much stimulation (from a sensory point of view), frustrating tasks (homework, chores). Another category is waiting, and that includes not getting what you want at all. Another type of waiting is transitioning from something fun: “Turn off the TV and come to dinner.” Another trigger is threats to self esteem where a situation makes a child feel bad about themselves, like losing a game or making a mistake or being teased.
The fourth category is when kids just want more of your attention and they’re being ignored. Maybe you find out that the problem always occurs when you’re helping the other child or when you’re having a dinner party and you’re ignoring your kids to talk to grown-ups. If we know that’s the problem, we can schedule more “special attention” time for our kids, let them know when they’re going to get the attention they want. Lots of kids don’t have a good sense of time, so the idea of “I’ll play with you later” seems like forever to a kid. But saying, “I’ll play with you at 12:05,” and you show them on the timer when that is, they have a very clear sense of when they can spend time with you and it’s much easier to wait for that attention.
I don’t want people to think they have to anticipate all problems. That’s impossible. That’s why we need “emergency management” tools, like distraction. The issue is, when you seem to have the same problem over and over again, what we want to do is have proactive strategies. It requires a little bit of thinking, a little bit of tracking when that problem occurs, as in a diary. If you want to solve a problem, you can track it for a day. If you are tracking it and you don’t see any patterns whatsoever, you might want to track it a little bit longer until you start seeing a consistent pattern. Eventually you will have enough information to start to put together a plan.
Interview by Bianca Merbaum