Monday, January 20, 2014

When Your Child Just Gets Angrier If You Try to Talk about Emotions

Ever wonder why when one child is upset, if you offer a hug, she melts into your arms but another pushes you away?  Ask one if she’s sad and she’ll spill all her woes to you, while another snaps “I’m not sad!” Despite the fact you know she is.

The difference in their responses is because children, like adults have a preference for “feeling” first or “thinking” first as they explore their emotions.  

Let’s take a look at the differences.

Cason wants to wear his favorite purple jersey to school.  Trouble is, it’s in the wash and at this moment it’s soaking wet.  

His mom says to him, “You really wanted to wear your jersey.  It’s in the wash.   That’s so disappointing. Can I give you a hug?  

If Cason nods and accepts the hug, she will follow the feeling path and treat him as a little feeler who 
        needs to wallow in those emotions before he’s ready to solve this problem.  The conversation         
        continues like this. 

“I know it’s really hard.  You love that jersey.  It’s so special to you.  I wish it wasn’t wet.  You’re 
        really sad right now.”  

Then mom knows to PAUSE and let him be sad for a while before she asks him, “Do you want to 
        think of some things we can do?”  If Cason still says, “No,” she’ll remind him that they are a problem 
        solving family and flexible thinkers.  

“Let’s try to think of at least 3 things we could do to make this better.”  She might continue.  

Together they will brainstorm possible solutions - anything is a possibility – wear it wet, put it on when
        he comes home from school, or find another shirt the same color to wear today.  When all of the 
        potential solutions are on the table he can pick one and solve the problem!  

So what are the steps if your child is the feeling mode? 

  • Stay with the feelings 
  • Give your child time and space to be sad for a while 
  • Ask if she’s ready to solve the problem 
  • Brainstorm possible solutions and choose one 
  • Only after the feeler has had an opportunity to “feel” will she be ready to solve the problem

If your child is in a thinker mode this scenario will begin the same way, but quickly needs to switch tactics.  It may sound like this.

  • “You really wanted to wear your jersey.  It’s in the wash.   That’s so disappointing.  Can I give you a hug?"  
  • If instead of accepting your comfort your child pushes you away try your best not to get upset with him or attempt to convince him he’s sad.   Switch to the facts saying, “Tell me what you’re thinking. How would you like it to be?  What should we do about this?”  
  • Only after he’s had an opportunity to declare his plan and describe what’s happened, what’s unfair or unjust will he be ready to solve the problem with you. 
  • Once he’s had his opportunity to vent, you can say, “What are three things we could do to make this better?"   
  • After you’ve solved the problem together the teachable moment opens for emotion coaching.  This is where you finally can say, “That was really disappointing wasn’t it?"  Or, “You were really sad."

So what are the steps for working with a child in the thinking mode? 

ü Acknowledge the situation – state the facts
ü        Allow your child to tell you what he’s thinking or what happened
ü       Brainstorm and select a solution
ü       Teach the name of the emotion

When your child is young, it’s not easy to identify his or her preference and to be honest he may switch depending on the day or the situation.  So begin by offering the hug.  If he takes it, odds are he’s open to the feeling strategies today and needs to express his emotions before he’s ready to solve the problem.  If on the other hand she rejects the hug, switch tactics and begin exploring the facts.  Emotions are important to everyone, but how we get to them is different.  Understanding those differences keeps us working together. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

When Your Child is Refusing to Do What She is Capable of Doing: Skill vs. Will

Typically five-year-old Andrew bounced out of bed in the morning, dressed and was ready for breakfast 15 minutes later, but on this morning when his mom greeted him with “Hey Buddy, how are you doing?”  He lost it, shrieking, “Don’t talk to me!  I hate you.”  Of course not two minutes later he was begging her to help him dress.  Not only did she not have time, since she normally didn’t need to assist him, but quite frankly she didn’t feel much like helping him out after he’d been calling her names.  Yet she knew if she ignored him and insisted he dress himself, since he was perfectly capable of doing so, things would only get worse.  But when she attempted to help him, his body went lax, making it impossible to get his pants on.  And when she had a go at wrestling him into them, he kicked her. 

There is a saying in the management guides: Some have the skill, but not the will.  Some have the will, but not the skill. 

Being cooperative and successful is a combination of having the skill and having the will.  
Since Andrew has dressed himself in the past and usually does so with little to no prompting when he “can’t dress himself” it’s pretty obvious he’s lacking the will. The question of course is why? 

This is where you have to slam on your brakes and resist the urge to push harder for compliance.  Instead stop and consider what’s “getting in the way.”

ü  Was there a late bedtime last night? 
ü  Is there something at school that’s causing him stress? 
ü  Did he wake up thinking it was a stay home day when it’s a school day? 
ü  Was he hungry because he didn’t eat much dinner last night?
ü  Is he coming down with something?

So swallow that scream, let your breath out slowly, know that if you take a few minutes to calm him and 
find out what’s going on, odds are you can easily re-ignite the “will” or at least win his cooperation if he 
needs a bit of help today.  Don’t worry, this will not develop into a “bad habit.”  You can let him know 
that you realize today he needs a bit of assistance, but soon you expect he’ll be raring to go on his own 
Sometimes however, what looks like a lack of will is actually a lack of skill.
It’s easy to be fooled.   For example, that writing assignment that would take a measly five minutes to 
complete if your child would just sit down and do it has now turned into a 45-minute tantrum including 
torn papers and a chair knocked over.  A knee jerk reaction is he’s just being lazy, or blatantly 
oppositional – just like your brother used to be – ok, still is - but behind those protests may be a hidden 
fine motor delay making it so draining and exhausting  to complete the task that he really can’t do it. The 
reality is he wants to do it and even realizes it would please both his teacher and his parents if he did – 
but he can’t.  

Then there is the child that you might swear hates playgrounds, but upon closer observation he’s 
stumbling and falling.  Struggling to climb, run or jump, or gets dizzy on a swing.  Dis-interest is actually 
masking a gross motor delay.  

Then there is the child that you might swear hates playgrounds, but upon closer observation he’s 
stumbling and falling.  Struggling to climb, run or jump, or gets dizzy on a swing.  Disinterest is actually 
masking a gross motor delay.  

So how do you know if it’s lack of will or skill?

You don’t without a bit of investigation. 

  • If a child usually complies but isn’t doing what he’s been able to do in the past, odds are it’s a lack of will.
But that doesn’t imply he’s just being difficult.  There is a reason he is in “shut down” on this particular day and it’s not just to make you late for work or to “get you!”  
  • If it’s an ongoing battle and he never wants to do it, 
  • gives up quickly,
  • or has never really been consistently successful, you’ll want to explore further that even though you might expect him to be capable at this age, he’s lacking the skill and needs more support.
The will is there, it’s just tucked behind the lack of skill.

Sometimes it is difficult to believe, but the reality is that children want to be capable and to please the adults in their lives. When they’re not cooperating it’s important to look for the real fuel source – whether it be will overwhelmed by stress, or a skill not yet developed.  There is always a reason and when you address it you’ll soon gain the cooperation you desire.