By: Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner
Sass. Tantrums. Whining. Shop Guy (my husband) and I have seen it all—and then some. Fortunately, I was an emotional kid too (okay, bratty at times), despite having fabulous parents whom I adore. That perspective let me know that these behaviors weren’t about us being bad parents or having bad kids. They resulted from dynamics of personality and situation. Read more >
So now that I’m a parent, I do these four things vigilantly:
1. Emphasize that it’s a behavior problem, not a personality problem. It never ceased to amaze us when our curly haired, youngest cherub (Nora) would spew aggressive, ugly words at us. Or, hands on hips, roll her head, shake her finger, and openly defy us. Or, standing on the front steps, screen door open, cats escaping, yell, “GET in here RIGHT NOW...I. NEED. YOU!” We have the challenge and pleasure of parenting a child with strong feelings and lots of ways of expressing them. Some of those are kind, respectful, and socially acceptable; others are not. We are forever helping her learn the difference.
2. Pay attention to triggers. It was a bit of a shock when Nora learned to talk, and very quickly determined how to push every single one of our buttons. Her older brother was never like that. We had no idea how easy we’d had it. In her book, Raising Your Spirited Child, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka encourages parents to think about a time they screamed, swore, or hit the kitchen cupboards. What else was going on that day, week or even moments just before? Kurcinka says “flood’ is the building of feeling that pushes us beyond our ability to cope.” Kids get “flooded” too, and usually there’s a pattern. Start to notice what overloads your child. It might be certain times of day, particular places, persistent worries, or specific activities.
3. Learn which interventions work. Kid throws a tantrum at Chuck E. Cheese? Leave. Aren’t willing to leave? I hope you know what “makes him tick”. For us, screen time is a big deal. For Nora, it also tends to be a trigger. Certain popular shows in which girls cattily bicker and talk back to their parents lead her to unconsciously mimic that behavior. For us then, a logical consequence for many unacceptable behaviors is a no-screen day (we also got rid of certain cable channels). Sometimes, just a warning is enough to cause a shift in her attitude. Other families use different consequences or positive reinforcement strategies such as beans in a jar for every “problem solved” with a celebration when a certain number are collected. Just make sure you can live with (and follow through with) whatever intervention you chose.
4. Promote peace, especially during peacetime. While the height of a situation calls for de-escalation, what you do when things are calm can make a big difference the next time. In Parenting Preschoolers with a Purpose, Jolene Roehlkepartain encourages parents to ask questions such as, “What makes you mad?” or “What gets you excited?” and to teach positive coping skills for both scenarios by saying things like, “I can see why that bothers you.” We have encouraged Nora to scream and punch into her pillow as hard as she can when she’s really upset. It lets her verbally and physically release feelings without harm. We’ve also helped her learn to meditate, and as she matures, I notice her increasingly benefiting from meditation during tough moments. Here’s a link about a free meditation app you can get from iTunes.
There’s nothing fun about bad behaviors, especially when they happen in public, are directed at you, or are chronic and persistent. But if there is no underlying physical or mental health issue, the steps above can go a long way toward dealing with them positively.
Tell Us: What techniques do you use to deal with “spirited” kids?
1. Image via Pink Sherbet Photography on Flick’r