Babble is partnering with PACER Center to help parents better understand and navigate the needs of children with mental health and behavior issues. This month, we’re talking about staying calm when your child isn’t.
It was Matt’s 7th birthday party and everyone was having fun. The gifts had been opened, the kids were playing games, and it was almost time for cake. That’s when Jackson yanked a shiny toy truck away from Matt and shoved him into a nearby table. Matt started to cry and Jackson’s mom Rebekah was mortified by her son’s aggressive behavior.
“Stop it Jackson! Don’t do that! That truck was a birthday present for Matt,” she said loudly. Rebekah darted across the living room and snatched the toy away from her son, handing it back to the birthday boy. “I’m so sorry,” she said to Matt’s mom. “I don’t know what has gotten into him.”
Jackson ran to the table of opened gifts and grabbed another of Matt’s birthday presents, throwing it across the room. Rebekah took Jackson firmly by the arm, practically dragging him into the other room, while apologizing to the other moms along the way. Jackson screamed and did his best to get away from his mother, but she held on tight. “I’m so sorry,” Rebekah said to Matt’s mom on her way toward the front door, “but I think we need to go home.”
Most parents have been through similar situations, and it’s hard not to get angry and frustrated by moments like this. Rebekah knew instinctively that there must be a better way to manage Jackson’s behavior but she was embarrassed and upset. It wasn’t the first time Jackson had acted this way and he wasn’t invited to many birthday parties as a result. Jackson finally calmed down when they got home, but Rebekah was at the end of her rope. Like any parent, she just wasn’t sure what to do.
Here are some tips for parents to deal with out of control behavior, without losing their cool:
1. Stay calm and positive but firm.
Use a soothing voice and a calm demeanor. Be firm but at the same time try to keep from engaging in angry or intimidating behavior. Make statements like, “I know this is hard for you Jackson, but that is Matt’s new toy. If you want to play with it, you need to ask Matt first.” State the behavior you want to see.
2. Reassure your child.
When kids are engaging in challenging behavior, they may be trying to get what they want. Jackson certainly captured everyone’s attention with his actions at the birthday party. The important thing is to reassure the child that you understand and are trying to help. For young children like Jackson, a simple “I understand” lets the child know you are there to help.
3.Use as few words as possible.
Unless your child is doing something dangerous that could harm himself or others, this is not a good time to try and convince him that his behavior is out of line. If you verbally engage in an agitated way, you are probably going to make the situation worse. Saying less is better.
4. Don’t threaten.
Try not to be threatening toward your child. Although you might be tempted to say your son or daughter is being “bad,” or deliver some form of swift punishment, this isn’t likely to work in your favor. By acknowledging that you hear what your child is trying to say and you understand his or her unhappiness, you will be more likely to de-escalate the situation.
5. Offer immediate support.
Tell your child calmly what it is you want him to do, not what he is doing wrong. Providing choices can be really helpful. “I know you want the toy, but it belongs to Matt,” his mother could say. “If you give it back to Matt now, we can have a piece of birthday cake together, or we can go home. Which would you rather do?”
6. Remove your child from the situation.
If you have taken these steps and the child has still not calmed down, it’s probably time to leave the situation. Returning to the home environment, a place where the child feels safe, can help de-escalate the behavior.
Every child reacts differently when they are in a stressful situation. As a parent, it’s up to you to respond in the ways you know are most effective for your child. By offering immediate support, you’ll be able to decrease your child’s stress level without raising yours at the same time.
Has your child engaged in behavior that is like Jackson’s? Do you have a friend whose child is dealing with similar issues? Please share your stories and offer ideas to help other parents.More On