What to Do When Your Child Just Doesn’t Respond

Ellie was so excited! She had just finished learning about a more compassionate, yet firm approach to discipline with her son Milo, who was born with Down Syndrome. Having been raised herself with punishment and negative consequences, Ellie was thrilled to have found a new way to respond to Milo’s frequent outbursts and oppositional behavior that didn’t resort to time-outs and spankings. It didn’t take long, though, for Ellie to feel deflated as Milo’s behavior almost seemed to worsen as she changed her approach. Whether it was time to pick up toys or get ready to leave the house, Milo seemed to resist every transition with his arms crossed, a loud grunt, and furrowed brows. She had tried offering choices and giving him a useful way to help. But Milo was having none of it! And of course, it was at a time when Ellie really needed him to go with the flow so that they could move on to the next thing. All of that inspiration and energy she felt suddenly disappeared as she knew they had to get out the door, but could see that Milo was going nowhere.

How are you supposed to get your child to cooperate when it feels like you’ve tried everything, but he still doesn’t respond? Let’s talk through some options.

Give a Warning

Simply tell your child that he has “3 more minutes” and then it is time to put toys away, put shoes on, etc. Kids, just like adults, like to be told ahead of time what’s happening, especially when having to move away from a favorite activity. You can do this by just saying it or if your child needs more explicit instruction, try using a visual countdown board like this one, which makes the transition much clearer.

A special note: It can be really helpful to incorporate something fun for your child to do if transitioning away from a preferred activity to something else. Giving your child bubbles or a special toy reserved only for shopping trips can be a really helpful tool toward enticing them away from what they are doing.

Offer a Choice Then Follow Through with Action

If your child does not respond to the warning, then you can simply tell him, “It’s time to clean up now. You can put the toys away or I can help you. You decide.” Then follow through with calm and decisive action. I, personally, like to make silly sound effects as I move the toys slowly through the air and plop them in the container. Often times, this is enough to help your child have fun and maybe he will even imitate the sound you make as he tosses a toy in the bin. For getting out the door, it can be fun to ask if he wants to fly like a bird (assuming that you can lift your child in the air) or hop like a bunny to get to the car. Then help him do it.

Speak Softly and Act Calmly

Sometimes, no matter what you’ve tried, your toddler is just not going to cooperate, but you still have to move on. In that case, what may be required is to simply tell your child, “I see you couldn’t make a choice. I am going to help you.” Then calmly (and this is key, because if you are upset, this will not go well) and gently assist your child physically to move on. This could be physically prompting him to stand up and walk or it could mean lovingly picking him up and carrying him as he thrashes around and becomes upset. The fact of the matter is, sometimes no matter what you try, your child may not cooperate and he will need help in dealing with the disappointment (which is a skill that needs to be taught). So hold him and be bigger, stronger, wiser, and more kind as you help him deal with the disappointment.

Just because your child resists doesn’t mean that you’ll be stuck. By staying calm and giving fair warning, your child will learn to anticipate those transitions. By offering him a choice of how to participate, he will learn that he is capable of making choices and will feel more control in the situation. If he can’t make the right choice on his own, he knows that you will always be there to lovingly and firmly support him to do the right thing.

Photo courtesy of Lynn Friedman

How to Set Up a Bedtime Routine to Really Help Your Child Sleep

I think we all have these sweet visions of rocking and cuddling our toddler to sleep and laying him down gently in his bed as sweet bedtime music plays in the background, sending him off into a deep and prolonged sleep.  Why does it seem then that the mere mention of the word sleep seems to cue total and utter chaos?

Does the thought of bedtime make you tense and nervous?  

Are you feeling like you have no control at all over the chaos that is bedtime?  

How do you restore order to the chaos?  Where do you even begin?

The best place to begin is with structure and your child relies so heavily on you to provide this for him.  Your child will become tense, irritable, and even unruly when he lacks the security of a solid bedtime routine to anchor him.  There is something very calming and soothing to him when you provide a simple, yet predictable order of events before bedtime. It allows him to relax, knowing where his limits are and that life is orderly and predictable.  

But how do you provide this structure that your child so desperately needs?  Let’s take a closer look . . .

How to Set Up a Bedtime Routine to Really Help Your Child Sleep

  • Set the stage.  Planning the bedtime routine starts long before bedtime itself.  All screens should be off at least 2 hours before starting any sort of bedtime routine.  Also ensure that your child has had at least one hour of active play (i.e. running around outside, playground, etc.).   To ensure optimal conditions for sleep, make your child’s room as dark as possible. Turn off all night lights and any electronics as even the slightest amount of light can adversely affect the quality of your child’s sleep.  If you’re not convinced, I encourage you to check out this interesting article
  • Plan out the Steps in the Routine.  Figure out what you want to include in your bedtime routine.  What will all of the different components be? Do you want to include a bath every night?  Is story time a part of your evening ritual? Some simple massage? It really is helpful to have at least a few steps in the routine so that your child can transition more gradually from the waking world to the sleeping one.  If your child is able and willing to, you should include him in the planning. Giving him control over the routine will create more buy-in when it comes to actually doing it.
  • Make a simple visual schedule using pictures.  You have several options here.  You can make your own by taking pictures of your child doing all of the steps in the routine (i.e. brushing teeth, putting on PJs, etc.).  If you just don’t feel that you have the time, you can always find ready-made picture cards online through a simple search for “bedtime routine pictures”.  Heck, you can even do simple line drawings! It doesn’t have to be fancy. Once you have pictures for all of the steps in the routine, place them in an order from either left to right or from top to bottom in a place where your child can see them. 
  • Make an object schedule.  Now, many of your kids will do just fine with a picture schedule, but many of you may have kids that are not able to understand the symbolism of pictures and may need something more concrete like an object schedule.  You can do the same set up with the picture schedule above, but instead of pictures, use objects that relate to each activity in the routine to represent the different steps. You could use a toothbrush, rubber duck (for bath time), piece of blanket (for bed), etc.  You can affix the items with tape or Velcro (if you have some) and refer to the objects just as you would the pictures.
  • Use Transition Objects.  Another way to simplify the schedule even further is to use what are called “transition objects” (which is nothing more than a small object that is used to represent the next step in the routine to cue your child as to what happens next).  You can use all of the objects you would have used for the object schedule and give the object to your child right before guiding them to do what is next in the routine. So, if you are about to ask him to take a bath, you could give him a bar of soap or his favorite bath toy while announcing “bath time” and then guiding him to the bathroom.  When it is time to transition to the next part of the routine, simply hand him the object related to that activity which he can then carry to the place where that would happen. I recommend keeping all of the objects in a small container so that they stay together.
  • Teach the Routine.  Once you have your chosen schedule in place, teach the routine to your child and then let it be the boss.  If your child resists the routine that you have established, refer him back to the schedule, simply by pointing to the picture or object.  If your child continues to resist, you may have to get creative (and playful!) and offer to hop or fly him to the next step in the routine.  Offering playful choices that get him to go to the next activity, but keeping things light and playful can be very helpful in keeping you out of the rut of power struggles and resistance.
  • Focus on connection.  As with all aspects of parenting that we talk about here, connection is key.  Make it your focus as you wind things down toward sleep. For some of you, this might be snuggling with your child, for others this may just be sitting near him with a gentle hand on his shoulder or simply being near without touching.  Work for those smiles and laughs to keep the spark of connection alive through simple songs or fingerplays as you do each step. Your connection will also help calm him (and YOU) as you enjoy the time together.

So remember, plan ahead of time, decide what you want to include, make it visual, let the routine be the boss, and focus on connection.  We all know that bedtime can be a nightmare before it even gets started, but if you take the time to develop some structure and routine, then it can turn what used to be a source of frustration into a wellspring of connection and bonding between you and your child.

Are you looking for more support?   Even with all of these ideas in place, you may still find yourself struggling.  You do not have to do this alone and I am here to support you. Click here if you want to schedule a time to chat.  

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons

How to Be Your Child’s Emotional Guide and Change Their Behavior

Did you ever grow up going to summer camps?  I sure did and one of the classic summer camp games we did was a “trust-building exercise” that was supposed to help us come together as a group.  I remember being blind-folded and then spun around in circles 5 times.  My partner would then stand behind me giving me ONLY verbal directions and no physical guidance.  I recall thinking, “I am literally in the dark!  I have no idea where I’m going or what I may run into.”  My partner had to raise his voice as I almost ran into a big rock or a tree out in the middle of the forest where we were camping.  As I participated in that exercise, I felt totally in the dark and completely dependent on another person to navigate my way forward.

It’s that sense of being in the dark and totally dependent that is your child’s lived experience every day when it comes to their feelings, emotions, and behavior.  Your child is really “in the dark” when it comes to navigating their feelings.  And surprise, surprise . . . your child has big, raw, unbridled feelings that seem to come out of nowhere without warning.  And they need A LOT of help to identify their feelings, calm down, and successfully move on.

And it’s because your child is running around in the dark with these feelings that you see the behavior that you do.  Your child hasn’t learned yet how to manage all of those huge feelings that come like a speeding car out of nowhere to run everyone over.  So, what they really need to move past the behavior is for you to be their emotional guide.  Being your child’s emotional guide requires that you sense, embrace, identify the feelings, and then offer comfort.  In doing so, you can give your child the tools to handle those big emotions before they turn into behavior.

How To Be Your Child’s Emotional Guide and Change Their Behavior

Something that’s really important to know is that one of the most critical ways your child learns about his own feelings is through yours.  However, to identify your own feelings, you need to sense them first.  The best way to do this is to pay attention to your body.  It most often comes into your awareness as a subtle or sometimes intense sensation; a churn in your stomach or an ache in your neck. You may even notice areas of tension or a change in your breathing.  All of these signals are your body’s way of alerting you to a feeling.

When you start to tune into all of those sensations and stay with them, you will later be able to identify what the true feelings are underneath them.  Take notice of your body.  What sensations do you feel?  Where do you feel tension?  Is that sensation staying in one spot or moving around?  Once you’ve felt it in your body, you can more easily give it a name later.  A simple mindfulness practice can help develop this ability to notice your body’s sensations.  Dr. Dan Siegel has a great, short meditation practice available here.  Headspace also offers a series of free guided meditations that would be a great place to start in cultivating a more daily practice of mindfulness.

Now, of course, you will not be doing this in the heat of the moment with your child.  I recommend carving out 5 to 10 minutes to do this at the start or end of your day.  With repeated practice, you will be able to sense more readily in that moment with your child.

If you’re like every other human out there, when you sense a feeling coming, you often tense up.  Especially when it comes to kids’ feelings, everyone is bracing themselves for impact.  But I want to encourage you to soften and welcome those feelings, good or bad, with arms wide open.  I previously talked about some ways that you can really get through to your child that are also very effective in embracing your child’s feelings.  When you embrace instead of brace, you create a wonderfully safe space for them to fully express themselves, get in touch with those oftentimes scary emotions, and build the resilience they need to move through them.  Circle of Security would say that you are being a “secure base” or “safe haven”.

What is both wonderful and beautiful about this is that as you lovingly embrace your child’s full range of emotion, you are embracing your own emotions as well.  What’s funny is that we often have this reflexive response to rescue or even minimize our child’s emotions.  This is actually a sign of our own discomfort with them.  Embracing your child with empathy, strength, and gentleness can actually serve to begin healing your own childhood experiences of feeling stifled, suppressed, or scorned for your emotions.  Loving your child in this way is also a way of loving and healing yourself.

If you stick with that process of sensing your body’s sensation and embracing it, a picture of your feeling will begin to emerge.  The tension in your chest begins to feel like despair or your shallow breathing begins to feel like fear.  Take the time you need to stay with the feeling long enough to let it reveal itself until you can give it a name.

Now, in as few words as possible or with pictures, tell your child what feelings come up for you (e.g.  “When you broke the toys, I felt scared.”).  You can then ask, “Are you feeling this way, too?”  You can also provide them with a simple feelings chart with pictures of feeling faces and allow them to point to the face that matches their feeling.  Oftentimes, when you first start this process, your child may not be able to identify their feelings.  (After all, kids are no different than us adults when it comes to this.)  If they can’t seem to identify one, choose a feeling that is most likely what they are experiencing and allow them to confirm it.

Once you have done this, it is so important to offer and provide loving support and comfort.  Depending upon your child’s unique needs, comfort will look different from one to the next.  So tailor your comfort to their unique sensory profile and individual temperament.  Offer hugs, a gentle touch, rubbing their back, or simply just being with them for as long as they need.  Perhaps they are still pretty worked up and need your help to calm down.  Model deep breathing and reassure them that you will stay with them as long as they need you to.  Use of a positive time out space can really be helpful here with a collection of comforting toys, objects, and visuals or even music.  Positive Discipline offers some great ideas on this.

Just like I needed my trusted partner to give me clear and calm directions as to where to go during our trust-building exercise, your child also needs the same trusted guide (YOU) to navigate out of the darkness and into the light of understanding their emotions.  This process of sensing, embracing, identifying, and comforting your child requires repeated practice.  But soon, you will become your child’s most trusted guide through the unknown and sometimes scary world of feelings and emotions.

Four Ways to Move Past Guilt as a Parent

As someone who works daily with parents of young children with special needs, and as a parent  myself, I am noticing something.  There is one issue that comes up for all parents, across the board.  I struggle with this myself, and have seen it in the lives of my friends who are parents as well.  What is this one big issue that all parents seem to have in common?

It’s guilt.  Every . . . last . . . parent I know struggles with guilt.

The guilt that you feel can be for a number of reasons.  It may be that immediate flood of guilt that comes after receiving a diagnosis for your child.  “What did I do to cause this?” may be one of the first thoughts to cross your mind or, “What could I have done differently?”  It comes like a huge weight out of the sky, crushing you.

Then there is the guilt that you feel for the mistakes you have made in the past, or are making right now.  “I’ve ruined my child,” you may think or “they’ll need years of therapy to heal from my mistakes”.  When you make a mistake as a parent, you can almost feel your heart turning to lead and, at times, it’s hard to overcome that feeling.  It sticks around like a heavy cloak, dragging you down and never letting you forget that it’s there.

There is also the guilt that you feel from not being available or being too busy.  So many parents feel this burden– that they have lost out on time they will never gain back, or simply feel bad for having other things to do that don’t involve their child.

Then there is the guilt that is induced by our culture.  This comes from so many sources, from the looks at the grocery store to online parenting blogs and communities.  I have most recently noticed many articles directed toward parents warning them of what not to do with their kids, and how to avoid damaging their precious minds.  The internet is rife with guilt-inducing articles that can leave you feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.

For many of you, all of this leaves you feeling weighed down and discouraged as a parent.  You can end up feeling paralyzed by your own thoughts.  It can also leave you feeling like you don’t even know how to parent anymore.  Carrying it around can even make your heart feel like it has turned to lead.  It can often compel you to do things that you wouldn’t normally do instead of relying on the good instincts that you have as a parent.

You guys!  Your guilt is keeping you from being the parent you want to be!

What if you could throw it off and walk free?  Imagine heaving that heavy pack off of your shoulders and throwing it far away from you.  How amazing would that feel to parent unburdened by guilt and to make choices for you and your child based on your love and connection with him?

Picture yourself having the headspace to be able to decide what you really wanted for your child.

Envision being able to parent without that heavy burden weighing you down.

Just visualize how light you would feel.  You could watch your child tantrum and respond in a way that would help you feel in control of yourself regardless of his response.  You could feel secure and confident in the decisions you make for your child.  You would be deeply rooted despite the storms brewing around you.  And even when you messed up, not just in minor ways, but in big ways, you could still use those moments to learn something as a parent and to help him move past his behavior.

So how do you get rid of that guilt?  How do you heave that heavy burden off of your back? Let’s talk about some ways to free yourself and move toward greater self acceptance and compassion.

Four Ways to Move Past Guilt as a Parent

1.  Embrace the guilt.  Wait, what?  Yes, embrace it.  In order to move past it, you must first get very comfortable with it.  Sit down and feel all of the feelings that come with the guilt.  Even if you’re not feeling particularly guilt-stricken in the moment, think back to a time when you were and let all of those feelings come to the surface.  Instead of trying to push them away, enter into the feelings and allow them to wash over you.  If your like many parents, just the idea of feeling guilty can induce even more guilt, which creates an obvious vicious cycle.  Allow yourself to feel guilty and notice how it feels in your body. If you don’t first acknowledge it, you will never be able to let it go.

2.  Connect with others.  Find your nearest fellow parent and talk more about it.  Now that you’ve allowed yourself to feel all the feelings, get all those guilty feelings out there and into the open air by talking about them and admitting that you feel them.  You will probably then need to allow the other parent the time to share their own guilty feelings as well (remember, no parent is immune to this experience).  Often just talking about it can offer a huge sense of relief and may be just enough for you to let it go in that moment.

3.  Practice self-compassion.  Moving from guilt to self-compassion can seem like a huge leap, but there are many resources out there to help you.  Here is a great resource for you by Dr. Kristen Neff who offers some excellent exercises to help you in this way.  From journaling exercises to guided meditations, you will find a lot of encouragement and very practical ideas here to help you have a lot more grace for yourself.

4.  Receive the grace that your child offers.  Amazingly, even after you’ve screwed up big-time, your young ones are always there, ready and waiting to extend grace to you.  Your child can be your greatest teacher of self-compassion.  Go up and give them a hug or find an enjoyable activity to do together. Let your connection to them bring you back to a place of feeling like the good parent that you are.  Your children have so much grace to offer you if you are open to receiving from them.

So, my challenge to you is this:  take one step away from the weight of your guilt and move toward that liberating feeling of accepting yourself as the good parent that you are.  For many of you, working on these four steps will enable you to do just that.  But some of you may do all of these things, yet still need help to break free.   I would love to help you overcome these mental and emotional hurdles.  I am here to offer you the support and encouragement you need to let it go.  If you’re ready to feel light again, then get in touch with me for a free 15 minute consultation.   You can talk.  I will listen.  And together, we will come up with a plan to help you throw off that guilt and start feeling the satisfaction of doing what you know is best for your child.

Image courtesy of Andrés Nieto Porras

4 Ways to Make Sure You Really Get Through to Your Child

On a recent visit to a new family’s home, I entered the house only to be greeted by two huge dogs barking at full volume.  They were jumping up and down higher than me, showing their teeth, and trying to break free from their owner’s grasp to come at me.  I could barely greet the parents over all the noise but the toddler I was coming to see seemed oblivious to the commotion. I, however, was tense.

Because I wanted to get in there and meet this child and his family, I crouched down toward the ground and held my hand out, my palm facing away from the dog.  Both dogs proceeded to smell and lick my hand furiously.  Their barking quieted and their activity lessened.  Once both of the dogs realized that I was not a threat to them, and that I was not going to hurt them, they bowed their heads to me so that I could pet them.  By the end of the session, I ended up with one in my lap, a whole lot of dog hair on my pants, and slobber on my hands. Clearly, I was no longer considered a threat!

I recently listened to Dr. Tina Payne-Bryson, co-author of No-Drama Discipline and The Whole Brain Child, speak about this very thing.  As she shared her wisdom about discipline with young ones, she talked again and again about the idea of communicating “no threat” when we are correcting our kids.  Why do you want to communicate “no threat”?  In a nutshell, the human brain is physically incapable of thinking, learning, or processing when it senses danger.  If our intention with discipline is to teach, you simply cannot do it if your child feels a sense of threat.  It will be physiologically impossible for him to receive the message that you are trying to teach.

You may be wondering what constitutes a threat to your child’s brain.  Simply posturing over your child, yelling, or verbally threatening her can create this feeling.  It could also be internal.  Perhaps your child’s physical body is under duress due to unknown dietary issues or low blood sugar.  Perhaps her sensory system is on overload and she cannot handle all that is coming at her.  Depending on your child and her temperament, it could take a lot or just a little to put her over the edge and create a sense of threat to her system.

The following very short video by Dr. Dan Siegel, the other co-author of the aforementioned books, explains very simply how the brain works under stress and threat, but also how it functions when calm.

I have used this model of the brain in the palm of your hand with so many parents (and children).  In a nutshell, you will see that if you are stressed or feel a sense of threat, then your brain (at least the rational, thinking part of it) stops working.  It cannot function.  The only thing you can do is fight, flight, or freeze.  So, if you think of your kid’s brain in this way then you realize that you have to help him be calm in order to access that thinking, rational part of his brain.

As you communicate “no threat” to your child, it creates a feeling of safety and security, calms her down, and allows her to regain control of that rational, thinking brain, which she needs in order to learn from you and to make a better choice for herself.  This is particularly important in children with special needs so that they can access that higher-level brain function and understand the situation to their maximum potential.

This is huge!  When the focus is on reducing threat, that is going to change how you talk with your child in those discipline moments.  But that’s not the only change.  It is also going to change how you posture your body, even how you look at and sit with him.  And when this type of connection is our focus then there is no room for punishment, shame, and blame.  Understanding this concept is transformative and will undoubtedly strengthen your connection to your child.

4 Ways to Make Sure You Really Get Through to Your Child

1.  Crouch down to below his eye level.

2.  Relax your posture, your muscles, and open your body to face toward him.

3.  Soften your expression to one of curiosity and compassion (this is one of the hardest!).

4.  If he will allow it, place a gentle hand on him to establish connection.  If, due to sensory reasons, your child cannot tolerate the touch, simply be close to him.

By doing these things, you are not just communicating “no threat” to your child, you are letting her know that you are a loving and supportive person in her life.  You are ready to help contain all of her big feelings.  You will help her regain control of herself.  Most importantly, you are connecting with your child.

It is from this place that you can then begin to teach and guide your child to learn the valuable life skills that you want for him.

Do you feel like you have tried everything?  Are you feeling frustrated and fed up with your child’s behavior?  This is not something you can do alone and I am here to help.  The Deeply Rooted Parent was designed specifically to give hope and help to parents of children birth through age 5 with special needs to face the challenges of behavior through kindness and firmness.  Would you like more support on this journey?   I am here to help you personally through parent coaching so that you can feel like the strong and loving parent that you are.   I also invite you to like The Deeply Rooted Parent on Facebook and take a look at my website where you will find resources and guidance to help you. 

Photo courtesy of Emily Kidd

3 Ways You Can Use Positive Discipline To Help Your Child

Kicking, biting, scratching, screaming, head-banging!  If you work with a child with autism or have one of your own, these behaviors are a part of everyday life. Knowing how to respond is really one of the toughest and most frustrating aspects of life with these kids. It’s also really puzzling; if only you could understand why.  Why does he do it, and how can I help?

I really believe that at the root of a child’s difficult behavior is his attempt to regain a sense of significance and belonging. What I mean is that even your child on the autism spectrum has to know that what he does matters in life, and also that he has a place of meaning and importance in your world. So, what does that have to do with discipline?

When your child isn’t feeling that he has an impact on the world around him and that he isn’t connected with you, he will begin to feel discouraged. When he’s discouraged, he acts out and will do anything he can to try and feel like he does matter again, that he is important to you.  That’s where we see the kicking, biting, head-banging, and screaming. It’s his desperate plea to regain his sense of belonging to you, and the sense that what he does matters.

So how do we help him regain a healthy feeling of importance to you? How can we help encourage that sense of significance and belonging and also stop the behavior? The answer lies in discipline, but it’s not what you’re thinking. The word “discipline” carries so much negative baggage, and brings to mind images of punishment, consequences, and time-outs. But really, discipline, in its original Latin form, disciplina, means “teaching; learning”.  When I discovered this meaning, it changed everything in the way that I approach kids’ behavior.

So, I want to offer you three ways that you can use positive discipline to stop the behavior, help your child reconnect to you, and feel important and valuable again.

Three Ways to Use Positive Discipline to Help Your Child

1. Take time for training.

If discipline truly means to teach, then we need to take the time to train our children. Maybe he needs to learn about some options of how to respond to an unpredictable change in events. Perhaps he needs you to teach him how to do the task that led to his frustration in the first place. It is very helpful to back up and break tasks down into smaller steps. Once broken down, teach each step along the way, so that he knows what to do and feels confident doing it. Use visuals and social stories that talk about each component so that everything is clear. Then you will need to practice, practice, practice with him until he can do it on his own.

2.  Show him how to do it, but don’t do it for him.

Model what you want him to do, and wait patiently for him to do it. Many children will respond very abruptly if we try to “motor” them through the action, so simply model and wait. If he isn’t responding to you, try gently guiding him to do the action, but be sensitive and responsive to what he is communicating. If he’s receptive and needs more guidance, continue to guide him. If you sense his resistance, gently fade your support and wait patiently for him to initiate again.  A visual sequence that demonstrates each step along the way is a helpful way to show him exactly how to do what you are teaching. This, along with your gentle, loving guidance will help him know what to do instead of melting down.

3.  Empower your child by getting him to help you.

All kids want to feel useful and we can aid them in achieving this by simply giving them something helpful to do. This can be as simple as finding the smallest task that he can help with and giving the guidance to do it. Perhaps getting into the car for errands is really difficult for him— next time, try getting him to help you with the “special job” of carrying the keys from the front door to the car, or have him help you carry the bags needed for shopping. Helping in this way will give him the sense that he has an important role in that routine and that he is really capable of doing something useful.

So, when we understand that our little ones are not just misbehaving and being difficult, but rather trying desperately to connect with us and feel important again, it changes everything.  Instead of reacting and using tactics of blame and shame, we can see that they really need us to teach them what to do, guide them by the hand, and help them feel strong and capable. Instead of feeling dis-couraged, your kiddo will feel en-couraged.  When he is encouraged, he feels whole and complete and his needs are being met.  He no longer has a need to act out and you are both connected.

How about you?  How are you using discipline to teach your children important skills? Let us know in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Joanne Escober

4 Steps to Recovering When You’ve Lost It With Your Child

One of the most guilt-inducing situations as a parent is losing it with your child.  You’ve been there, I’ve been there, we’ve all been there.  It’s easy to feel that you’ve done irreparable damage.  But what if your mistake could lead you to connect on a deeper level with your child? Let’s take a look at how that might look.

Let’s paint a picture of a common scenario…

It’s Monday morning and Dan has a big work week ahead of him.  He has lots on his mind and is feeling the pressure of what’s to come.  While he is in a rush to get out the door and into the car to get his daughter, Lilly, to school, she has different plans.  As they are almost out the door, Lilly spots a hole in the dirt and is obsessed with dropping leaves, sticks, and whatever she can find down into the hole.  She drops her backpack, sits down on the ground, and begins happily dropping objects into the hole with a huge smile on her face.  Dan is less than thrilled and with a huff, tells Lilly to “Get in the car!  It’s time to go!”.  Lilly pays no mind to this and happily continues to drop things into the hole.  That is it!  Dan has had it and reaches down to grab Lilly firmly by the arms, shakes her and yells, “I said it’s time to GO!  Get in the car, RIGHT NOW!  I’m SICK of waiting around for you!!!”  Lilly falls apart and cries while Dan heaves her into the car seat so that he can get going.

So you’ve lost it!  Now what?

Cool Down

Once you realize that you have, indeed, lost it, take the time to recollect yourself.  This looks different for each individual, depending on what truly calms you down.  One way is to find your breath and breathe deeply for a count of 10 breaths.  This literally calms your brain down, getting more oxygen to your brain to help reactivate the rational and relational side that you cut off  access to when you lost your temper.  They don’t say “You’ve lost it” for nothing.  You have truly lost the parts of your brain that you need to help your child.  Dan might need to walk around the car a few times while focusing on his breath.

Now it’s time for the Thee Rs of Recovery 


This is one of the toughest parts as a parent and one that is a real game-changer.  We have to admit that we were wrong.  What?  Admit that I was wrong?  Doesn’t that make me look weak and ineffective as a parent?  No, it actually makes you look human and relatable to your child.  When you recognize that you made a mistake, you are opening the door for connection.  You are modeling vulnerability and owning up to your shortcomings— an invaluable character trait that I think everyone desires in their children.  Remember to make it visual for those that need it.  For example, Dan might make a drawing of the car and Daddy with a big mad face to represent how he was impatient with Lilly when getting into the car.


Once you’ve opened that door by recognizing your fault, it’s now time to apologize.  Apologize to my own child?  Yes.  Again, you are modeling strength, kindness, and integrity by being vulnerable enough to admit your wrong-doing and seek their forgiveness.  Young children are very quick to forgive, especially when we approach them with an honest heart and desire to reconnect.  It may be helpful to point back to your drawing or visual while making eye contact with your child and creating a sad or sorry face so that they understand.  Using humor here can also be quite helpful showing that you have a good sense of humor about your mistakes.


Now it’s time to work together with your child to figure out what to do next to repair the situation.  Maybe you decide to go back to the car and do it again while practicing more patience.  Maybe you just sit together with your child in your lap, hugging them for a while before moving on.  Whatever you decide to do, make sure that reconnecting is your focus.  Once you reestablish that connection you can both move on to a better place.

These are not easy tasks.  Raising human beings is an incredibly daunting and difficult job, but sacred and wonderful at the same time.  I hope that you can see how promising it is that by being vulnerable and human with our children, even our mistakes are meaningful opportunities to teach them valuable skills and to foster a deeper connection.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Lucia via Creative Commons

What to Do When Your Child is Having a Tantrum

Tips for Trantrums

Most of the time, your child’s tantrums leave you either upset or bewildered, but what if you could respond in a way that fostered a deeper connection between you?  Children’s mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn and tantrums are the perfect example of this.  If you’re tired of losing it, too, then try approaching it in a new way.

1.  Just let them do it  

When your toddler has gone over the edge, their rational brains (we are talking the pre-frontal cortex where all the higher processes happen–thinking, processing, rational decision-making) have totally shut down and are overloaded by their rage.  You cannot talk to or reason with a child during a tantrum.  This only escalates the behavior.  It is always best to let them get it all out until they cannot cry, scream, or kick any longer.

2.  Be with them

Have you ever lost it before?  Have you ever cried and screamed hysterically?  Then I am sure you understand how comforting it is to have a trusted person by your side.  Your kids are no different.  Your child needs your support during such a display of raw emotion.  Don’t go anywhere, but be right there next to them.  If they will allow it, provide a loving touch with a calm hand on them.  If not, just be near them and be available to them.  A favorite stuffed animal or doll can also help with this.

3.  Model calmness

This is the toughest one of all!  But, if you can pull it off, it works so well thanks to mirror neurons, essentially a way that the brain works to mimic what is seen in another person.  When your child sees you being calm, their brains will work to calm down too and regain access to that rational part of their brains.  This also helps you maintain control of yourself during this time.  Circle of Security described the role well by saying that as parents we need to “be bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind.”

4.  Reconnect with lots of hugs and comfort 

Once the storm has passed and your child has finished their raw display of emotion, they are going to need to know that they are still okay with you.  Give hugs, rubs on the back, hold them. Dry the tears and just be with them in that moment.  In doing so, you are letting them know that they are safe with you, they are still loved despite their behavior, and that you are there to help them recover.

5.  Process the feelings and help them move on

Once the tears have dried, it is time to help them process through these big emotions and the situation that led up to it.  This will look differently for different children depending on their needs, cognitive level, and communication ability.  For some it may be a simple conversation to label feelings.  “You were disappointed when it was time to go to bed.  That made you mad.”  For especially young ones or those with communication challenges, pictures or simple drawings are very helpful in helping show them what they were feeling.

Be sure to help your child move on to the next activity.  If their tantrum created a mess, helping you clean it up is a great way to involve them usefully in repairing the damage.  Be sure to provide choices for the next activity.  “Do you want to have a snack or play outside?”  Again, this can be done through simple pictures on a choice board, which can be made at home.

Tantrums are never pleasant for anyone.  But how we approach and respond to them can make all the difference–teaching valuable emotional skills and fostering deeper connection.

What have you found to be helpful for you during a tantrum?  Are there certain strategies that you use for staying calm?  Let us know in the comments.  

(Photo Credit: D Sharon Pruitt)