Little People – Big Feelings
Often, from when children wake up, they have very little say in the choices that impact them. They are told when to wake up, what to wear, what to eat, when to leave, where go and how to feel. When we consider this, we can start to view things from the child’s perspective. There are so few things in their life that they can make a decision about, and when they finally get to choose to have milk for a drink with their breakfast and it’s not in the cup they like, that can be super frustrating. And then we often follow this with telling them that they are fine and to calm down. So, they do not even get to choose their feelings either. Obviously, there are some situations where we are the adult and must make decision on their behalf, however, it can be helpful to provide children with choices. “Would you like your blue shirt or red?”, “Would you like Weet-Bix or oats?”, “I can see you’re upset, would you like a hug?”. When offering choices to children, it is also important to consider we are not overwhelming children with options. So rather then sending them to the cupboard to choose their shoes, have two options available so they can decide between the two.
Have you ever had a day where you just want to be alone? You don’t want a million questions and you find everything and everyone annoying. Just me? Surely not! Well, our children are likely feeling these big feelings too but have not had a good couple of decades to learn how to deal with them. In our utility belt of emotional regulation, we know taking a walk, or some deep breaths or maybe talking it out can help with difficult situations. A child’s repertoire or utility belt is going to be much smaller. Do you know what is a really effective method of letting people know I’m angry… (though not socially appropriate), stomping my feet, screaming and throwing things. When a child is heightened like this, you cannot reason with them. No information or calming words you are trying to offer are going to get through. Ride the wave and when they calm down you can discuss what took place and work on other strategies they can use. Add to their utility belt of emotional regulation. I’ve been adding to my belt for 33 years and there’s still times where I think I could approach situations better. We can’t expect our children to be perfect.
As a general rule, children thrive off predictability and routine. If they’re happily laying on the lounge watching a movie and you suddenly turn it off and declare it’s time to leave, chances are, this is going to be met with some resistance. Some strategies that may be helpful can include:
- Time warnings – “Ankush, we leave in 5 minutes”. And remind a couple of times and then it is not a surprise. This is not to say they will never be upset about leaving again, but it can definitely lessen the occurrences.
- Predictable routine – Forming routines where possible is typically a lot easier for children to cope with. We have dinner, bath, teeth, book, and bed. Ensuring things are predictable and routine also assists in avoiding upsetting children by throwing things on them.
- Visuals – Having visuals available for children such as ‘now, next, then’ procedures can help them understand clearly what your expectations are. This could include routine events such as ‘now – a photo of them eating breakfast, next – a photo of them brushing their teeth, then – a photo of them getting dressed’.
Once we start to look at why some of these big emotions might be occurring, we can come from a place of empathy and understanding rather than frustration. When children are at the height of big emotions which may present as a meltdown or temper tantrum, sometimes we may look at the behaviour as attention seeking. I encourage you to replace the word ‘attention’ with connection. Sometimes when children are feeling most vulnerable and needing love, they can show it in ways that are not ideal. Again, when they are in this heightened state, they are unlikely to be receiving information, however, just let them know you are there. Position yourself so you are in view but not overcrowding them and whilst remaining calm, just occasionally remind them that you are there when they are ready for a chat or a cuddle. You are their trusted person, they will come to you for comfort when they are ready.
I have raised three of my own children and supported countless children through Fit Kidz as they navigate these tricky days, particularly during the ‘terrible twos’ and I still spent this morning’s drive to work crying because my son didn’t do what I wanted him to do. I gave the warnings, I had the visuals, I gave him choices and it still did not work. I then became emotionally dysregulated… because we are all human, including myself and my son.
This is by no means a fail-proof way to ensure perfect children, but rather a few ideas that may assist you in either minimising the meltdowns, or at least understanding why they occurred. Days like these can be tough and you may feel like it is just you, it absolutely is not. Forgive yourself and your child for being human and move on.
Below are some sample routine visuals that may help at home: