By Becky Mansfield
Originally posted November 29, 2017 on KidsActivitiesBlog.com
“The children who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways.” I couldn’t agree more.
Do you ever feel like your kids crave your attention, but show it in the worst ways?
Do you ever hear your child talking back or acting up and wonder, “What is going on? Why does it always have to be a meltdown, a whiny voice or an argument?”
It’s hard to remember that our kids are just that… kids. They need our time and attention, even if they don’t know how to ask.
They are young kids, only a few years old, expected to act just like us. It’s our job to teach them how to navigate their feelings.
My friend, Hillary captured it perfectly when she wrote: “She is a little tiny person who, at the ripe old age of 6 is, in many ways, expected to carry herself and behave like a 26-year-old. She is supposed to know when to speak and when to be quiet. She is supposed to listen to me, her dad, her teacher, and almost any adult she comes in contact with. All the while, we expect her to make her own choices and guide her own decisions.
She sits at a desk for 6 hours a day, listening and being quiet. Studying and taking tests. She’s figuring out who her friends are and how to be a good friend. She’s figuring out how to be a good person, a kind person…she’s figuring out the things that matter in this world, all the while being expected to share her favorite Barbie with her sister.
And sometimes, it gets to be too much for that little body and mind. And she needs to let it out…and who better to let it out on than the one person in the world with whom she knows, knows beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she is safe with us.”
Isn’t that so true? What can you do about it?
I love the advice from Katie Malinski:
“One of the first things I tell most parents that I work with is that behavior is a communication, and that understanding the message in a child’s behavior is incredibly helpful for changing those behaviors.
To put it another way, something is behind or underneath unwanted behavior; triggering or motivating or strengthening it. Those hidden drivers are usually unmet needs of some variety. When parents can identify what those unmet needs are, they typically find that those underlying needs are needs they want to support. In other words: the behaviors are unwanted, but the needs driving those behaviors are understandable!
Children who are acting in unloving ways are likely to themselves be feeling unloved, unwanted, not valuable, incapable, powerless, or hurt. The response those children need isn’t greater control, or bigger punishments, they need understanding, compassion, and support for their growth. LOVE.”
We can learn to empathize with them, as Dr. Laura suggests:
“When parents accept and empathize with the child’s emotions, he learns that emotions aren’t dangerous and can be felt but not necessarily acted on. Once the child can let himself experience his grief over the broken treasure, his hurt that his mother was unfair, his shame when he didn’t know the answer in class, or his fear when his classmate threatened him, those feelings begin to heal. Almost magically, since he no longer needs his anger to defend against those more vulnerable feelings, his anger evaporates, and he can move on.
By contrast, if we don’t help kids feel safe enough to feel those underlying emotions, they will just keep losing their tempers, because they don’t have any other way to cope with the upsets inside them. These kids often seem to have “a chip on their shoulder” because they walk around ready to get angry.”
Our advice is to stay close and connected when your child is upset. Be their safe place. If you know what’s going on, acknowledge it. Listen and try to understand. Use words that show you understand:
“You are so angry that your tower fell.” or “You’re upset because she wouldn’t play with you.”
Then give permission to have those feelings: “It’s ok, everyone needs to cry (or gets mad, or feels very sad) sometimes. I am here for you.” If you can hold their hand or hug them, do so to maintain the connection: “You’re safe. I’m here.”
It may be a hard change to do these things and resist the urge to say “Go to your room until you’re ready to behave.”
However, I think it’s for the best because we are raising our kids and trying to teach them, to raise them to be caring, responsible, independent adults. Think of it like you are asking them to help you find the solution so that you can help them.