Friday, September 26, 2014

3 Tips for Keeping Your Cool

“I promised myself I was not going to yell at her again,” Kristin confessed.  “But sometimes it is as though it erupts from me. The force of it shocks me.  I keep wondering, who is this?”

How is Kristin supposed to keep her cool on the days it feels like her child is gunning for her?  How is she supposed to stop the rush of her own emotions?  It is not easy.  But it is possible.

Researchers use the term “self-regulation” to describe the ability to stay calm in the “heat of the moment.”  The problem is your body doesn’t know the difference between a tiger stalking you, and your child refusing to do what you just asked.  It reacts the same way.  Your heart and pulse rate escalate, blood pressure rises, stress hormones rush into the system and breathing quickens.  All of which leads to “tunnel vision.”  Suddenly your brain is looking for the “enemy.”  You stop listening. 
Avoid making eye contact.   Don’t want to be touched.  And lose your ability to problem solve or think creatively.  

Fortunately the brakes required to stop you from
automatically going into this “fight or flight” response are like a muscle.  
The more you exercise them the stronger they get.

So how do you strengthen the brakes?  

1.  Practice when emotional stakes are low.     

Why do worms live in the ground?  Why are people bigger than bugs? Why are there stop signs on school buses?  The repetitiveness of these seemingly inane questions can drive you a bit crazy, but within lays a gift.  It is unlikely you are emotionally involved with the topics and the kids are calmer too.  As a result these questions provide an opportunity to stop, tune in, and listen without the added challenge of a trailer full of your own emotions pushing from behind.  

2.  Share experiences.  

The next time your child asks, “Why” use it as an opportunity to extend the conversation.  Instead of reacting with statements like: “Because.”  Or, “I don’t know.” Or, “Enough, no more questions.” Take the conversation deeper.   Ask questions that engage both you and your child such as: 

“I don’t know.  What do you think?”      
“I wonder if it could be this?” 
“What else could it be?”     

Studies show that people who focus on experiences have higher levels of satisfaction, long after the moment of the experience has passed.  

3.  Savor the memories. 

True excitement and learning come from entering your child’s world and train of thought. These moments build family memories.   When you take the time to savor the good times you remember the sparkle in your child’s eyes.  How his face beamed with pleasure.  The delight of those conversations strengthens the “muscle” of your emotional brakes.  Blood pressure drops.  Heart rate slows to a deep loving thump in your chest.  

Then in that split second when your child’s why question is a more irritating, “Why do I have to..?”  
Instead of surging with negativity and frustration, that sweet innocent face will flash before you.
You like this child who engrosses you in the wonders of her world.

Taking that deep breath and stopping to listen is no longer quite so difficult - even in the “heat of the moment.”

Friday, September 5, 2014

“I don’t want to go to school!”

These words can punch you in the stomach leaving you queasy all day long.  How do you know if this is a “slow to warm up” typical reaction for your child, a desperate siren call commanding you to snatch him from the abyss of a terrible classroom, or time to teach him how to work with difficult people?

There is a saying that when you hear hoof beats think horses – not zebras.

Your child’s lament may break your heart and make you late for work, but be careful not to immediately leap to the “worst case scenario.”   Before any problem can be solved it’s essential that you fully understand it.  Take time to truly listen to your child.  (Recent statistics demonstrate we only do this about 30% of the time.)  

Ask questions which require more than a “yes” or “no” reply, such as:

“What do you not like about school?”
“Did someone say something that hurt your feelings?”  
“Was someone mean to you? “ 
“Did something scare you?”  

It may take more than one conversation, but continue coming back to the topic until you hear the deep sigh, see shoulders relax and an expression on your child’s face that clearly communicates, “You’ve got it!  You understand!  Thank you!”  

If your child is not a “talker” but is able to read and write a journal that you share might be the perfect tool to “discuss” the concerns.  If neither are working it’s time to go to school and observe for yourself what’s happening.  If a parent is not allowed in the classroom then simply walk your child to the door and stand in the hallway for a few minutes.  

Watch your child enter.  Do other children and the teacher greet him?  Listen to the words and tone of the teacher.  If you hear shaming, contempt or bullying statements, walk from the classroom to the principal’s office.  Find out if he or she is aware of what’s going on in the classroom.  If not, repeat what you have heard and describe what has been observed.  Keep it factual and verbatim.   Ask what will be done about it.  When Sarah, a parent we talked with recently, did this she was surprised to learn the principal was unaware.  But once he was, he took action.  Within the week the teacher was replaced.  

But sometimes things are not clearly black and white.

The teacher is stern, but not mean or cruel.  Expectations are high, but not unrealistic.  Policies are strict, but fair.  Directions are a bit fuzzy, but provided.  While it’s not the warmest atmosphere it’s not destructive in any way.  If you have a highly sensitive child it’s true that this is not a perfect “fit.”  However, learning to cope and thrive in the world at large which is frequently only “good enough” is an essential life skill.  Avoidance actually can make tough situations worse.  Supported practice makes them better.  

Rein yourself in.  Rather than going after the teacher step back and teach your child how to manage the situation.

If she’s struggling with directions brainstorm how she might ask for clarification. 
If the tone of voice disturbs her identify other people she knows who love her, but are gruff curmudgeons; harmless despite their crusty demeanor and even potential “teddy bears” when you really get to know them.  
If rules feel too “strict” explore openings for discussing changes.  
Problems may be addressed with a list of potential solutions.  

It’s inevitable in life that your child will run into a “difficult” boss, colleague, peer, roommate or neighbor.
By starting now during your child’s early years you can prepare her for those tough times.  Identify the problem, brainstorm solutions, practice together and celebrate successes.  It does take longer than handling the situation yourself, but the positive results and sense of competence your child experiences endure and protect for a lifetime.