I’m Actually Afraid of This Kid
Parents have occasionally, with understandable reluctance, shared with me that they are afraid of their own kid. Teachers have also confessed that they struggle with fear of certain children. What’s happening when adults are frightened in the presence of children whose behavior has that scary aspect, even when it’s not Halloween?
Three Common Mistakes Parents of Intense Children Make
We’ve all been there. Our kids do something that seems defiant and we immediately match their intensity with our own. We believe in our heart of hearts that when a child misbehaves, we must get stronger in our approach to their behavior in order to correct it. Here are the three things we do that only result in increased intensity.
1. We yell when our children act up. We say, “I said ‘stop it’ and I mean ‘Stop’. Now.” We let them know they are wrong, they made a bad choice, and they need to understand their errors in order to prevent this from ever happening again.
2. We use our bodies to communicate how upset we are. We stand tall over the kids, or we get in their faces to be sure they hear us. Our fingers wag, our brows furrow, and our shoulders tense up.
3. We convince ourselves that if we don’t correct the behaviors, they won’t get corrected, so we POUNCE on them and expect immediate compliance.
Are there ways to avoid these three common mistakes? Yes.
1. Yelling at kids only has effects we don’t want. It causes them to feel the need to defend themselves, and it also communicates unsafe conditions. Intense children have bigger-than-average responses to unsafe conditions, so you may want to consider never yelling again. (I’ve had parents try this, with remarkable results.)
2. Our bodies are like giants to our kids, even if they are pretty big and we’re not. A parent’s stature is more about being their PARENT than about size. When we use our bodies in a threatening way, we cause them to look at us with fear, and fearful kids act defiantly. The preferable way to approach an upset or out-of-control child is “low and slow.” Sit down, speak in a soft tone, and communicate calm. Yes, that’s hard when you’re steamed about the behavior, but I can guarantee you a better result in the long run. If you don’t like escalation, approach your child with calm.
3. Many parents take on a “manager” role. Demands come so fast and furiously that they just don’t have time to wait for children to comply. The pressure builds to the point that the manager in them goes ballistic, because there are 14 balls in the air at once, and they feel they can’t let one of them drop.
Here’s a bit of reality for you: kid time is slower than adult time. If you want things done by 8:30, start much earlier than 8:25. Yes, adults could get it done in 5 minutes, but kids are not adults. Start at 8:00 and allow for some side-winding. It’s in the nature of children to be less organized in their motions that adults, but that’s OK. If you accept it, and encourage the true nature of the child, you’ll actually get to 8:30 much more calmly with a lot more done. Remind yourself you are managing small people. You’ll be a lot happier with your expectations aligned with their nature rather than trying to fit them into adult molds.
One more thing: trusting children to learn and grow in their abilities is a much more peaceful approach than expecting the worst all the time. Notice how well she’s taken responsibility for her toys, or he’s being gentler with his little brother. Sometimes kids are making strides right in front of us, but we fail to notice. If we do notice, we reinforce the growth, and can just sit back and marvel at the natural development of the human being known as “my child.” www.parentingmojo.com/parent-coaching