Episode 10: Tuning in for Parents
written by Jenna Hamm (Clinical Social Work/Therapy) on 17/10/19
Do you struggle with your child’s challenging behaviour? Wondering about the best methods for discipline? The most effective approaches might be different from the most popular.
When infants come into the world, they are (ideally) met with closeness, soothing, and responsiveness to their needs. If they feel hunger, milk is offered; if they feel frightened, someone holds them. Associating intense sensations with quick care and comfort is the foundation for self-regulation, self-soothing, and independence.
Toddlers and older children also thrive when their intense emotions are met with quick and caring responses from their caregivers. Unfortunately, as children begin experimenting with a wider variety of behaviours and words to get their needs met, parents often struggle to remember that the root of “acting out” is an unmet need. Often, children’s distress is met with “stop it”, “you’re fine”, a threat, a time-out, or physical discipline.
Children then adaptively associate difficult emotions with negative consequences and struggle to cope effectively with their feelings as they grow older. They might begin to isolate themselves during difficult times or ignore their emotional experiences. Alternatively, they might become completely overwhelmed by their feelings and incapable of self-regulation because it was never taught to them.
The next time your child acts out, try responding to the need instead of reacting to the behaviour. Start with connection; offering a hug and a quiet place to talk. Then help your child explore their inner world and figure out the reason for the behaviour; the painful emotion. Once your child has been seen and heard, processed their emotions, and begun to regulate, they will be much more open to a discussion about why their behaviour was problematic.