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The parenting challenge

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Children often throw tantrums because they find it difficult to self-regulate their emotions, says Tanya Vasunia

Every parent experiences challenging behaviours from their children, from childhood through adulthood. These periods of contention are normal, and even healthy. While these may lead to parents feeling overwhelmed, it is important to understand that the child is probably experiencing a similar feeling.

Children often exhibit challenging behaviour, or have a tantrum, because they find it difficult to self-regulate their emotions, i.e., they find emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness extremely difficult to manage. In order to help both your child and yourself, it is essential to empathise with them.

Here are a few principles that can assist your parenting styles in working through these behaviours

Creating a tribe

Don’t forget that you’re not alone! Connect with family and friends who have children, particularly if their children are similar in age to your own child. Parents who have children around the same age will not only be able to empathise with your own experiences, but also share their own strategies that work for them in particular situations – such as your child’s craze around a particular TV show. By being a part of a parenting community, you learn efficient strategies to help your child work through their behaviours, as well as support your own emotional well-being. If you’re unable to engage in a parenting community in your school or city, join one online!

Keeping calm

While keeping calm might not be easy when your child is having a tantrum, it is probably the one thing that can diffuse the situation. So when your child is getting aggressive or upset, before you jump in to try and soothe them, take a minute (in fact, take five!) and then address the situation. Your tone of voice, body language and facial expressions all matter. Try your best to be calm and firm at the same time.

Model the behaviour you hope to see you in your child

Children learn from their environment, they watch the world and imitate their surroundings. This means they observe how we respond when we are upset and when they are upset. Therefore when you are angry it is important to be conscious of how you deal with the situation, try your best to respond and not react.

Talking about the now

Often, parents don’t know what to say when their child is having a tantrum. When unsure, stick to the present, talk about what you observe, and do not be afraid to ask questions.

For example: “Nihal, you seem very angry. Are you angry about not getting the IPad?” 

You might think that you know why your child is upset, so what’s the point of asking? The goal here is to get your child talking about what they are experiencing. This will not only help them understand themselves better and distract them from their emotional distress, but also clarify things for you.

For example: “No Mom, I’m angry because you and Dad say NO to everything.”

In this way, you learn the real trigger for their distress, and once you identify the problem you can work through it.

Creating family rules/boundaries and following them

Every family is unique and functions differently. It is important that boundaries and house rules are discussed and followed by everyone in the family. The key is consistency and uniformity in house rules. Ensure that both parents, as well as family members that live in the house, are present when you talk to your child about these rules. Make it a conversation, with everyone involved, including the child.

Getting the right help when needed

The 21st century parent has information at the tip of their fingers; Google or Dadi will pretty much answer all your queries. However, if your initial attempts at helping your child with their behaviour are unsuccessful, you might want to visit a professional. Often, emotional regulation and familial concerns in children indicate some underlying social, motor and/or neurodevelopmental concerns.

Finally, remember that no matter what strategy you apply, they are unlikely to work if you do not have a good connection with your child. Getting to know your child as a person is the foundation from which your relationship will blossom. A good connection will remind you that your child is more than the tantrum they are experiencing. It is this connection that fosters the emotion that needs no regulation: love.

Tanya Vasunia is­ Psychologist and  Case-Coordinator, Mpower

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