Last month we explored ways to creatively introduce new cooperation strategies for you and your child. How is it going? This month we are going to continue with the creative cooperation strategies while highlighting your child’s need to feel in control of his or her world. Most of us can agree that we like to feel in control of at least some part of our lives, if not all areas. As adults we have a great deal more opportunity to gain control of our lives than do children. Kids struggle with the day to day directions that they consistently receive, just think about it “wake up”, “get dressed”, “eat this for breakfast”, “grab your backpack”, “keep your hands to yourself” and this is all before 9:00 AM! This for a few minutes, what are some directives you feel you repeat often with your child? Wouldn’t life feel better for your family if that script could stop being on repeat for your morning routine? Let’s look at how to accomplish this idea.
Children need direction. Please know that I am not saying to give your child a free pass in order to help him or her gain control but rather let’s get creative to help your child master a feeling of control in at least one area and then go from there.
As we get started, let’s think of some ways to support a feeling of self control and potentially a motivation to use that control in a positive way. As children (or adults for that matter) gain feelings of control they are less likely to act impulsively, less likely to be defiant, more likely to improve interpersonal relationships and potentially reduce the behaviors of concern that necessitate repetitive directions in the first place. Now let’s help your family.
Here are some tips when starting to introduce the development of mastery and control for you child:
- Promote choice language in your directions: Children feel empowered when they can make choices. “Would you like to have oatmeal or a granola bar for breakfast?”, “would you like to leave for school now or in 5 minutes”. These are two of many examples of ways to introduce choice into your morning routine. When your child can choose elements of his or her day, they are more likely to “buy-in” to following that choice which is both empowering for them and reduces stress as a parent. It is important to make sure that both choices offered are parent approved. For example, offering to go to school or stay home should not be an option but letting your child choose what to wear, what to eat and when to leave that are within reason can really change your morning routine.
- Allow your child to openly talk about emotions and feelings. Making your home a safe place to express both positive and negative emotions can be a great starting point for your family. Help your child understand a wide range of different kinds of emotions he or she can feel. Talk about facial expressions, body language and different ways that your child can express feelings and emotions to you as well as help develop insight and self awareness for your child into what may be causing a certain feeling or behavior. If you see your child looking frustrated, reflect that rather than directing your child to not feel mad or upset. Mad happens, helping your child handle this feeling will allow for a more controlled anger and improved communication in the future.
- Help your child recognize feelings in others. As you help your child understand his or her own expressions and body language you can also teach you child how to “read” other people. Model for your child what you are feeling and don’t feel pressure to hide you feelings. Appropriately expressing both positive and negative emotions at home or in your community is a way for you child to learn what feeling look like but also how to manage them in daily life. You are a great teacher for you child, don’t forget that!
- Identify Strengths: Work with your child to identify strengths and coping strategies that can help him or her to manage behaviors when they need to gain control. Each child is different and you are the expert on your child. Is your child a more active learner or is doing a thinking type of skill more on par for him? It is important to tailor these strategies to your specific child (ren) so that they can be effective and so that your child can feel ownership of his or her skills. Some possible strategies to try can include: stretches, deep breathing, playing a calm game, listening to music, squeezing a stress ball, finding a favorite stuffed animal, blowing bubbles or going for a walk. As you can see, there are endless possibilities to what your child can use as a coping strategy.
- Make a game plan/write it down. There is power in stories and your child can find personal ownership and control of his or her behavior through writing out your family story. This can be done in a factual manner or using imagination and different characters to replace your family members as long as your child and family are represented. Writing stories about trigger situations and showing mastery of the characters to be able to achieve calm and control in the story will help you child visualize that he or she can achieve control in life. These are also great reminders for you child when he or she is upset and can be done as a coping strategy if your child becomes triggered. Once your child has identified ways he or she can feel in control, write out a game plan that can allow your child to try his or her strategies. For example, making a plan for Sally to help mom meal plan for the week or Gavin can choose the movie for family movie night are both simple examples of planning time for your child to feel in control.
- Notice when you child is in control. When your child maintains control, provide verbal praise. Your child will enjoy being praised and want to earn your praise. Giving your child credit when he or she is handling a situation in a positive way will help ensure future success.
- Be the parent AND the coach. If your child does become escalated or behaves in a way that is concerning be sure to follow up and help your child realize a more appropriate way to react. You can remind your child of coping strategies when your child is upset but if escalated wait until after your child has calmed down to provide coaching and feedback. Coaching during a meltdown will not be heard effectively and may trigger a larger outburst from your child. Once calm, your child will be better able to hear your feedback and hopefully make a better choice the next time.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. Just as the family stories help your child understand how to react in a different way, role-play can be used to help your child express emotions and figure out ways to behave differently. If your child is working through an emotional process, using role-play can be a safe way for you child to express feelings without being in a highly emotional state. Practice helps your child prepare for future feelings and gain independence.
- Lead by example. You are your child’s best tool to learn how to live. Children are quick to mimic behaviors, good or bad; therefore it is important to be aware of your reactions. Work to model appropriate behavior and own up to times when you could have made a better choice. That will help your child recognize that everyone makes mistakes and that he can still make a better choice the next time.
Although this may feel overwhelming, each simple step you take is a step in the right direction. Hang in there and keep working to be creative in how you teach and encourage your children. You are on your way to a more in control family.