It can be so exhausting when our small children are intense and explosive. Their high energy brings extreme swings of joy…or anger. They can play calmly and quietly one moment and seemingly flip to smashing things in anger with no provocation the next.
What can we do in these situations? How can we help our children express themselves calmly? How can we shift the energy in the home from fear and the feeling of walking on eggshells around our children to one of peace and connection?
Define Parenting Success
To answer these questions, I’m making a few assumptions about what you hope to accomplish as a parent. First, I assume you want to increase the amount of connection between you and your child. You want him to feel loved. Second, I assume you want him to grow up able to judge for himself how to act vs needing someone else to tell him the rules for each situation.
If haven’t thought about what successful parenting means to you, it’s time to figure that out. Life will be a lot more peaceful if you understand your own goals. Once you understand your own goals, you’ll be able to use them to parent more peacefully.
Often our expectations are not clear. We say yes about something once, but a different time we say no. We grab our toddlers and make them move vs talking to them. They don’t understand the difference between us doing it when they run to the road and they do it to their younger sister. This is especially true if we use force to parent often. I don’t mean spanking, I mean holding a child that wants to run, or picking up and carrying a child that wants to stay put. When we parent from a place of reaction, we are more likely to send these mixed signals to our children. But when we have a clear image in our mind of what our goals are, we are able to consistently guide our children.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
We usually expect way too much from our children. When they don’t meet our expectations, they already feel pretty horrible, and if we say anything about it – it makes it worse. We usually say way too much.
Especially with small children it’s important to use our actions more than our words.
When our oldest was young and our second just crawling we often had incidents where our oldest attacked her younger sister. At first I couldn’t figure out how to make it stop. I tried everything, including lecturing before during and after these incidents happened. Then a wise person told me to keep our younger child out of her big sisters space. They didn’t mean in the sense of protecting the younger child, but rather protecting the older child from the younger one.
I tried this immediately. Our two girls were playing happily in the living room, when the younger one started to crawl toward her sister, I stopped her and said, “I know you love Ella, but we need to ask before we take her toys.” I then stopped and asked my older Daughter if it was okay for her sister to use her toys. She looked thoughtful so I added, “I know you love Agatha, but it’s okay if you don’t share right now.” I nearly cried when she smiled and handed her sister her toys. They played so beautifully together.
For the next 8 months or so I spent a lot of time stopping the baby from getting into her sister’s space. I also helped my older daughter learn to use words like, “excuse me” instead of pushing her sister out of the way.
I also helped them both see the things the other did to show her love for her sister. (I still do this now that their both pre-teens – it helps them stay friends when they hate each other hahaha).
Find The Reason Behind Misbehaviour
We often try to make our children behave the way we want vs finding out why they behave the way they do. I spent so many hours trying to make my older daughter stop hitting her sister. But her actions never changed because I hadn’t dealt with the issue behind her actions. She was too young to have words to express her needs or her emotions. I needed to help her figure that out.
If we ask them why they do something, the answer will be ‘I don’t know’ – not because they’re being difficult, but because they really don’t know. This is where our greater wisdom and experience comes in – we talk to them, and connect with them. The more we learn, the better we can see the reasons behind our child’s actions. For my daughter the issue was that the baby sister she loved dearly was also grabbing her things all the time. The baby had no sense of boundaries, but you can bet the two year old did! And she let us all know the baby had crossed some serious boundaries!
Using These Tools to Recenter
In order to help our children remain calm, we need to first let them know we want to help them. We do this through our actions. We connect with them and protect them. We use our words sparingly and only to complement our actions. By defining what successful parenting looks like to ourselves, we’re able to use this to guide our own actions consistently. Our consistency brings calmness to our children but most importantly it brings calmness to us when things get difficult.
We can use those moments of calm to dig deeper and find out what’s really causing these explosions of emotion. Once our little one knows we understand them and want to help them, they usually calm down fairly quickly. After they’ve calmed down, and we’ve reconnected with them again, we can use this time to put words to their emotions. But the key is reconnection. Words are a lot more powerful after you’ve reconnected.