Matching our child's anger with our own may (secretly) feel justified and good in the moment but it inevitably backfires and we end up in a power struggle and argument that we feel super guilty about later.
Approaching our children with empathy, curiosity, and our own regulation can help maintain our relationship with them so they can begin to feel safe enough to stop fighting back.
They aren't going to be the first one to do it...they're children with really underdeveloped brains...WE must be the ones to go first and let them know we're safe and they're safe with us.
So, here are 5 things you can say to your child that can help them feel seen, hear, understood, and safe:
#1 - "I can see you're feeling so angry and disappointed right now. Man, that feels so crummy!"
Validating our child's feeling shows them that we're listening. And that we understand them. Yeah, we might not get angry over not getting the right cup at dinner or not being able to stay at the park for an extra 10 minutes, but we HAVE been in situations where we've been angry, disappointed, or frustrated.
Ever bought something online and when it showed up you're like "this isn't what I bought! Now I have to go return it!"
Or you wanted to talk a little longer on the phone with your mom but your kids were arguing and tackling each other and you needed to get off RIGHT NOW?!
If we can call upon our own feelings - even if the situations are different - we can truly empathize with our children in that moment.
Truly hearing our children's emotions, regardless of how "silly" or "illogical" they seem to us, can help them feel safe and supported which is the first step in beginning to restore regulation and "calm" to their bodies.
#2 - "It's okay to be angry but I'm not willing to be hit. Let's find something else you can squeeze or hit to get that angry energy out."
All emotions are welcome. All behaviors are not.
This is where we can stand firm in our boundaries. You can share what you're willing to do, or not do, and then provide an alternative for your child.
Because angry energy (or scared or surprised energy) has to go somewhere. It can't just be stopped in its tracks.
Sometimes that looks like going for a run around the block, or hitting a few baseballs, or ripping up the grocery ads that came in the mail, or squeezing a pillow and yelling into it.
The goal is to keep your child, and anyone else around them, safe. Because your child is in a place where they can't access the part of their brain that allows them to consider safety or the impact of their actions on other people at that moment. They need us to step in and say that we're here for them and we will keep them safe.
My youngest likes to stand in front of me while I kneel and then we put our hands up to each other and he pushes against my hands while I gently push back. Eventually, I lean back more and more and then push against him more and more and we do this until he "tackles" me and we fall over laughing.
My oldest...he's a pillow squeezer, pillow hitter, and body thrasher on the couch. After which, he piles the pillows on top of himself and just hides for a bit.
#3 - "Would you like some time alone or do you want to talk about it? If you don't want to talk, I'll be in the kitchen, just let me know when you're ready."
You may not be in the kitchen...you may sit at the foot of their bed, or on the floor, or outside the room. Regardless, what your child may need is some SPACE. They may not be ready to talk to you about what they were feeling, or needing, or what happened, until they have become more regulated.
And, your child may not like physical presence or physical touch, to help restore that regulation.
My oldest needs space until he's on the other side of the emotional wave and then he crawls into my lap for a hug and asks me to scratch his back. My youngest...he seeks my physical touch right away through hugs.
Just letting our kids know that we're there and we aren't going to force anything, can provide those safety cues they need to start feeling calmer.
#4 - "Oh, my heart's going really fast. I'm going to take a deep breath and maybe sway side to side. What do you need and how can I help you?"
It means the world to our kids to know they aren't alone in their big feelings.
Their bodies are totally dysregulated (either super charged or maybe even shut down) and when we model awareness of our own state, we can help them learn to recognize that in themselves and advocate for what they need.
Our kids are young. So they may not know. But as we co-regulate with them over and over (and over) we will begin to know their preferences and their patterns. And we can offer those up to them while we're regulating ourselves.
When they see that Mommy and Daddy also feel a little overwhelmed and need to help their bodies feel better, it doesn't send the message that they're the only ones with this "problem."
And, when we accept and understand that our kids aren't going to regulate themselves alone, we can step in with a genuine curiosity for what they may need, and the ability to actually support them in getting there. Because we took care of our own bodies first.
Tip #5 - "I know you're a good kid who just had a hard time. What can we do to fix this? Let's find a solution together."
Your child is a good kid. My boys are good kids. All children are good kids.
And, they still have hard times.
When we voice this to our kids we are letting them know that we see beneath their behavior and their anger. That we know that the way they're acting or the words they're using aren't ones they really love either.
We can help them learn to take accountability and understand the impact of their behavior by problem solving - TOGETHER.
Our children's executive functioning (or higher level thinking) skills are still developing and asking them to make a plan and execute it themselves will probably end up in another argument or power struggle.
But the more we practice helping our children brainstorm and plan the way they'll fix a problem or how to communicate what they initially wanted to communicate or how to repair the relationship with an apology, the more they will have that wiring to be able to call on that independently when they're older.
We can collaborate with our child on how to find ways to resolve a problem or how to ask for a need to be meet in a different way.
No, that doesn't make us weak. That doesn't make them the parent. That doesn't make them entitled.
It gives them invaluable conflict resolution and relationship repair skills that they will need for the rest of their lives.
The way you show up in your child's most challenging moments, matters.
Remember, big emotions from our kids can make us feel off-balance and activated too. That's normal. It sets us into motion to respond in some way.
But with purposeful practice and intention we can respond with empathy, curiosity, and co-regulation rather than yelling, punishment, and ignoring.
It will make all the difference in our children.
And the relationship we have with them.
Leave a comment below with which one if your favorite way to respond or if you have your own that works wonders!