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I used distraction and comfort.
Sometimes I could rock a sad child to sleep.
Sometimes I would put on a video he or she liked, and make something soothing like a milk shake, and sit in the same room quietly doing something else (not conversation, just the video.
Going for a walk has also helped. Playing water in the yard, or with special or new things in the bathtub. Bubbles and kitchen utensils (funnel, collandar).
Some people's emotions come back to calm/center/normal more quickly than other people's. Talking about the thing won't really help. Trying to arrange for other things to be happening while the biochemistry calms itself might help.
Some people think crying itself is what is needed sometimes, and that's party of why spanking might seem to work to some people. There's only so much crying that can happen, and if it's stepped up, the child cries it out, and maybe sleeps it off. So that has appeared to work (and I'm sure sometimes it helps the parent release some of her own adrenaline and frustration. I don't think it's a good idea at ALL, but just saying that if crying is curative, maybe crying would be okay. (Minus the spanking or threats.)
Sometimes my own disappointment and frustration matched my child's, and I wasn't as much help as I could be when I realized that things like that happen, and I could stay calm myself.
Commiserating and fixing it. If possible.
"Darn, how could I be out of peanut butter? I just went shopping and I must have forgotten to get some. Let's put it on the list so I'll be sure to get some when I go to the store tomorrow. What else do we have to eat?"
"Hmmm, that sure didn't work, did it? Play-doh is just not going to be strong enough to build this thing we are making. Let's try . . . what else can we try. . . hmmm. . . Legos? No? Blocks? Maybe? Well, let's try and we'll find out."
"No, we can't go there now. The car wash (4-year-old Dear Nephew's passion) won't be open until later. We need to go here and there. Let's get those errands done and then see if the car wash is open."
It seems like this sort of conversation goes on all day long. We have to pick older child up at school? "Nooooo. Leave her." Me: "But she'll just melt in this heat and wonder where we are." And this one gets repeated every day to the point where we are going through a routine about picking up someone who is waiting for you. We have decided DD would be lonely and melt and we would miss her during various versions of this round.
Dear Nephew hardly ever cries -- about anything. But he wants a good looooong talk about any deviation from whatever he was expecting. Four is tough. So much to do. So busy. Emotions flying all over the place some days. Food interrupts, other people interrupt, projects fail, etc.
Hugs and lots of talking. Or quiet (Dear Nephew will explain that he needs quiet sometimes . . . and then proceed to chatter about it. . . ?? :) ). But some sort of serious response to a real situation is called for.
You know what... it will pass, simply be the space for her to have her reaction. Never underestimate the intelligence of a four year old. I never participate in any energy exchange with 'child in reaction', other than to quietly exit (or exit them) and let them get on with it. (They know exactly what they are doing) If you do keep 'responding' they eventually begin to mental game-play because they get your attention each time they 'react'; they quickly learn how reaction may be a wonderful tool for the exploration of manipulation and control of the human energy around them. Distraction or serious response to 'situation reaction' really serves no purpose other than to shut them up... until next time.
That is not good advice for someone trying to be mindful of their children as human beings.
You are seeing children as manipulative people that are crying to get response from you, play mind games or manipulate the parent.
Children are people too. They are human beings with feelings.
At 4 they have big emotions and need a present and resposive adult to help them with those.
If you got home after having had a hard day and started crying about it and your partner just ignored you would you feel loved and suppored?
Here are some great artcles about young children and tamtrums :
Indeed, never underestimate the intelligence of any child. Ignoring, hitting or otherwise punishing them will eventually get them to shut up when they are having an inconvenient moment. But that's not RU.
it happens sometimes several times a day and it's frequently over just every-day disappointments, things in life that don't go as planned
Sometimes its hard to guess what a child is thinking or expecting, but often with 4yos, its not so hard to figure out and get ahead of things a little, set her up for less disappointments over all. One way to do that is offer things before she asks - if you're waiting for her to say "I want to..." (go to the store, make pizza, whatever) then you're giving her time to form some wonderful picture in her mind that the world can't possibly live up to. Do lots of strewing and suggesting. Look for patterns in what she wants, too. For instance, if she consistently gets upset when you do things for her, offer her more opportunities to do for herself. Make sure your home is set up for her to feel capable, too - that's often an ongoing stressor for little children, that the world is too big and complex, and can leave some kids hair-triggered - so you get a lot of "last straws". If you can make her life easier overall, you reduce the chance of her falling apart over something that seems small. If there seems to be no pattern, its a good indication that what's setting her off is just the Last thing in a line of frustrations and annoyances.
It's also good to look at how you answer. The admonition to "say yes more" is important! There's a difference between "I'm sorry, we can't do that now" and "Ooooh, what a good idea for tomorrow, lets make a list of all the things we need and pick out what you want to wear..." That won't work with every child or in every instance, but its often a helpful way of shifting "I want" to pleasant anticipation rather than crushing disappointment (and with young children, sometimes there's not much in between!).
But all that being said, some people are naturally more emotional than others. If its natural for her to have biiiig reactions, she doesn't need to be talked or jollied out of them, necessarily. It may be she needs some comfort and support, someone to commiserate with her that the world is not convenient to the desires of little people. If you can shift your expectations to supporting her while she's upset, that will help reduce your stress when she's unhappy, and that can make a big difference! Your stress will feed into her reaction.
(They know exactly what they are doing)
Very often what a young child is doing is attempting to communicate - and at 4 a person doesn't have many tools for that, so its easy to fall apart. "Exitting" doesn't facilitate communication, it shuts it down.
If you do keep 'responding' they eventually begin to mental game-play
This is old, bad "wisdom" that doesn't see children as people who need help. Trying to communicate isn't mental game-playing until adults treat it that way and start the "game". Children, like adults, need understanding and support. Sometimes that means they need a shoulder to cry on without anyone trying to cheer them up, and sometimes it means they need someone to help them see another perspective, find another solution. Putting a child away doesn't help with any of those needs.
If the child in question is having gigantic melt-downs that involve hurting other people or destroying property (and my stepson did both before we found our way to more peaceful parenting) then it could be appropriate to take the child somewhere to cool down, but for tears? No.
because they get your attention
A young child should absolutely get lots and lots of attention. That's important - its important to children in general and to unschooling families in particular. Unschooling takes lots of attention and engagement with children. It's not "hands off" parenting, if anything, its much more "hands on". If a child is crying for attention, you're falling down big time as an unschooling parent - time to step up!
Now and then I realize one of my kids, or my partner is deliberately doing something to get my attention. I use it as a wake up call - I've let other things distract me from my own priorities, from who I want to be. I want to be a good partner, and I can't do that if I let the garden or the laundry or my latest pet project take me too far from the people I love.
(and my stepson did both before we found our way to more peaceful parenting)
I'm responding to my own comment - there are unschooling kids who have big meltdowns and lash out at the people around them, young children I mean. Some people do have bigger reactions and little kids need a lot of help with those. I don't want to imply that unschooling kids never have melt downs! In our life, once we began parenting more peacefully giving Ray the attention he needed, though, the violence went out of his reactions. He could still get reeeeeaaalllly upset, but he wasn't leaving bruises and breaking furniture.
Being a small child is so full of frustrations. Even in peacefully parented households, everything from schedules to physics can seem to be against them! I think quite often when we try to help our kids feel better, we end up telling them that they shouldn't feel the way they do. I was blown away when I read Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman; it really made me think about all the times I've said, "You're ok" or "Don't be scared, its just..." To the person feeling that way, its not ok. Nance Confer has great suggestions above. She acknowledges the feeling and helps to find a solution, treating children like people. In Gottman's book he calls this "emotion coaching". I've found myself doing this with upset children I don't even know, at the playground or the grocery store. And of course, my own family has benefited.
Some people will probably pooh-pooh the idea of having "steps" to being a caring parent but for someone like me who didn't grow up with the sort of parenting I want to give my son, I've found it very helpful. That said, here are the steps to emotion coaching, but I really suggest you read the book:
1. Being aware of the child’s emotion;
2. Recognizing the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching;
3. Listening empathetically and validating the child’s feelings;
4. Helping the child verbally label emotions; and
5. Setting limits (ie not hitting) while helping the child problem solve.
The steps to number 5 are: 1) limit setting; 2) identifying goals; 3) thinking of possible solutions; 4) evaluating proposed solutions based on your family’s values; and 5) helping your child choose a solution.
It really becomes automatic with a little practice until "It seems like this sort of conversation goes on all day long" as Nance said above. But its a learning curve and I still sometimes find myself saying, "Sweetie, you're ok..." before I switch to, "That's really frustrating when your train doesn't fit under the bridge....I wonder if we should make the bridge taller or get one of the shorter trains? What do you think?"
Some of the underlying principles behind "emotional coaching" seem to be sound, others run counter to the idea of building partnership with children. Coaching is all well and good if the person being coached wants to be coached - but it can turn into a curriculum of a sort, and get in the way of both communication and healthy emotional growth. Communication is far, far more important than coaching - and for parents communication starts with listening and looking, not talking or guiding.
2. Recognizing the emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching
Intimacy and learning, yes, but keep in mind that learning doesn't require teaching and using a word like "teaching" implies that children can't learn from kindness, support and connection. Connection is the important part! Watch out for the urge to turn a moment for connection into a "teachable moment" - that breaks down connection between people and leaves a child feeling like his or her emotions aren't valuable just as surely as saying "don't cry".
4. Helping the child verbally label emotions
Depending on how you read this, its something that can backfire in a big way with some children. They don't want to be told what they're feeling - it comes across as telling them what to feel. A better approach with many children is for parents to talk about their own emotions - not "dump" on kids, but acknowlege frustration and tiredness, enthusiasm and concern. That's just as helpful - and often more helpful than "offering words" in a moment of stress when the last thing anyone really wants is a vocabularly lesson ;) Any time parents talk about their own feelings, they're "helping a child verbally lable emotions".
5. Setting limits (ie not hitting) while helping the child problem solve.
This is the sort of thing that can sound good but, again, can backfire big time in real life depending on the child and how this bit of "coaching" is enacted. Rather than jumping to the old parental standby of setting a limit, look at the needs in the situation. One child needs to be safe, the other needs... what? With young children, most of the problem solving falls on the parent - it should fall on the parent; a tired, angry, frustrated 4yo should not be expected to solve his or her own problems, even with coaching. That's unkind.
Working towards helping kids get their needs met is problem solving and as such it models problem solving. There's no need to make a lesson out of it. Some kids need to be verbally included in that process - but not all kids. Some kids need an "escape route" - a way out of the situation so they can cool down first and then do a little problem solving for next time. My 9yo's problem solving often happens in bits and pieces over several days, for instance. "Maybe next time I could..." and that's all. I can respond briefly, but it won't help her if I try to dive into problem solving mode when all she wants is to bounce one little idea off me and then mull things over some more.
"That's really frustrating when your train doesn't fit under the bridge....I wonder if we should make the bridge taller or get one of the shorter trains? What do you think?"
Whew, that's a lot of words to dump on a 4yo! One of the biggest mistakes parents make while learning about more peaceful parenting is they resort to too many words and kids start tuning out - even when the words seem sympathetic and helpful from the parents' perspective. The statement above could be pared down to "Oh, bummer!" and then pause for a few seconds to see what your child's reaction is and then, maybe, offer another block or train or idea. Learning to say less and look and listen more is one of the most valuable skills parents can learn. Kids need words and coaching much less than they need our direct attention.
I agree, its all about knowing your child and being there with your child in a loving way. I hesitated to even throw that out there but for us less-enlightened unschoolers, having things spelled out in simple basic terms can really help. There are definitely flaws in the system but ultimately, its all in how you do something, what your attitude is. We run from "teachable moments" like the plague. It is never our goal to be condescending or didactic with Charlie. Rather, this concept was a tool to help us step back and realize the times that, emotionally speaking, we can be there for our child in a more supportive way.
As an example, we were at the playground the other day when a little boy fell face first off the slide. I happened to be next parent in line to catch at the bottom and I watched his parents try to console him, "You're ok, don't worry, let's go play on the swings" etc, etc. Meanwhile, he was screaming and crying and generally letting them know that he was not ok. While I totally realize that being really connected and there with your child may help you avoid this, I remember times when I'd done just the same thing, without even realizing how it must feel to the child who is NOT feeling ok at the moment and feels that no one gets it, no one understands. Even the best intentioned people can fall into familiar patterns, especially under stress.
Just a PS, the comment on the bridge includes a ... to show a pause and the "when your train doesn't fit under the bridge" was more explanatory for the reader. For Charlie it would go more "The train won't fit!"(said sympathetically..."No!"..."That's frustrating"..."Yeah"..."Do you want help?"..."Yeah"..."Should we make the bridge taller or get a different train or something else?" We always ask before helping because sometimes he doesn't want help, just understanding.