Let’s face it, these past few weeks have been very stressful for all of us. But parents and caregivers may feel heightened stress as they navigate parenting full time, teaching from home, and trying to keep everything afloat.
Children, especially young children, do not fully understand this new, temporary normal. They may cry, sulk or have a full-on tantrum. “Why can’t I play with my friends? Why can’t I go to school?”
Deep breath. Deep breath. Deep breath. Yes, it’s hard. Yes it’s overwhelming. But you can do this. We are here to help. And children need your help. They cannot manage their emotions alone. Although there are no magic bullets, there are proven and simple techniques founded in sound research, which really work.
The most successful of these, utilized in over 70 countries by parents, educators, and caregivers, is Conscious Discipline. Founded by Dr. Rebecca Bailey, its principles teach us that until we help children know they are safe and connect with them emotionally, we cannot help them wrangle those feelings in a way that helps them achieve their goals.
Here are some ways to get started:
One: Take Control of Your Own Emotions
When we’re struggling to help a child who’s distressed, we must regain our composure and calm before we can help our child find his. BREATHE. Take three deep breaths to help calm your brain. This works for children too. Calmly look into your child’s eyes and ask him to “Smell the flowers (deep breath) and blow out the candle (deep breath). Do this three times alone, and then with your child.
"we must regain our composure and calm before we can help our child find his"
Two: Know About Our Brains
There are three brain states: Survival, Emotional, and Executive. Our goal is to help our children manage their emotions so they can develop skills to solve problems, skills found in the Executive State. Our brain’s frontal lobe does not fully develop until age 25. This part of our brain controls our ability to problem solve, use judgment, and communicate well. It also control our emotions.
Three: Children Need to Feel Safe First
The first basic need of children is feeling safe. This does not mean the child is safe, but rather the child feels safe. If a child does not feel safe, he cannot move from the Survival or Emotional state of the brain, to the Executive state. When your child is upset, help me by first saying, “You are safe. We are safe. We can handle this. We will get through this together.”
Four: Make Connections and Acknowledge Feelings
Instead of suppressing or assuaging your child’s feelings, acknowledge them. We all feel frustrated, sad, angry, tired, and worried. Feelings are real, and you help your child when you calmly help your child name his feelings. “You look sad. You look angry. I feel sad and angry sometimes too. But you are safe, and we will get through this together.” Having a “safe” station in your child’s bedroom, or in a quiet corner of the house, with symbols of feelings can be a good place for you and your child to visit and deal with talk about these difficult emotions.
Five: Use Assertive Commands
Instead of focusing on asking your child to STOP a behavior, tell her what you want her behavior to look like. For instance, instead of “Don’t run in the house,” try “Use your walking feet.” Instead of “Don’t stand on the chair,” try “The chair is for sitting so put your feet on the floor.”
Saying “We wash our hands to keep us safe,” is assertive, positive and encouraging. Saying “You better wash your hands or you’ll get sick,” or “I’m not going to tell you again to wash your hands,” are hostile and threatening, and send children into their survival and emotional brain state. They need to always feel safe before they can manage their emotions.
Six: The Daily Schedule
Children are more likely to thrive and reach their goals when there is basically the same schedule each day, or at least during the week. If your child is old enough, have him help you craft the schedule, and schedule playtime, storytime and quiet time, as well as school time. Have a movie night and let your child select his favorite, even if you have seen it 10 times! Familiarity brings great comfort to children.
Seven: Help Your Child Understand COVID-19
Children notice everything. Our 24/7 news cycle can be scary for them. Limit your child’s exposure to the news. Rebecca Bailey offers sound advice for parents to help their child deal with the news, and ways to answer the question “Why are we staying at home right now?
Eight: Be Brave
Rebecca Bailey reminds us to tell children, “You are safe. You can handle this. We’ll get through this together.” And we WILL!