Lost your cool with your child?

Here’s what to do next: 6 steps to reconnect.

With Australia now a month (feel like two?) into lockdown, tensions may be rising high in some family homes. Our clinician Jenny Jensen has put together some practical tips to help parents and carers repair and reconnect with their children after an escalation.

Children are dynamic little people with so many strengths, skills, and talents and endless positivity – we would never find ourselves being frustrated by them, right?

Not quite.

While children are dynamic little people who do have endless qualities to give the world, they also have the ability to engage in behaviour, or not engage in behaviour, that can drive their parents up the walls. This can (sometimes) be managed under normal circumstances, where both parents and children are able to take a break and engage in their normal routine and can participate in activities that enable them to reset and recharge. However, if in the midst of a global pandemic you are finding it a little more difficult to manage your emotions and your reactions, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Currently we all find ourselves in a new, ever-changing reality where the overwhelming narrative of late is about home isolation, financial instability, and social distancing. Not exactly the most uplifting place to be. Then you throw some restless children into the mix, who themselves are adjusting and making sense of the world around them… If you find yourself a little more reactive than responsive lately, remember, it’s okay. So long as if you lose it, you try and use it.

No child needs a parent who is perfect. Instead, children need parents who are responsive and attuned to not only their needs, but also their own. (Let’s face it, chasing perfectionism in the midst of a global pandemic is hardly the time anyway…)  As children grow, so to do their needs and while we might not always get it right, and lose our cool now and then, it is what we do with these opportunities that matters.

Losing our cool is part of life and an experience your children will undoubtedly have themselves. Given the current climate, they might even face it again in the not too distant future. Why not use this opportunity to role model how to reconnect effectively after a rupture?

Using moments such as these can be a learning experience for you. It can help in setting clear intention to make some changes, and can provide motivation to follow through, or motivation for change. This single instance of losing it can instead be viewed as an opportunity to get back on track in raising these dynamic little people.

So, how to do it? Below are 6 steps to reconnect with your child.

  1. Hit pause on angry actions.

When you notice your body tensing, face feeling flushed, or other indications that you’re getting upset, it is a good idea to hit pause on the interaction at hand and give yourself a minute to breathe. This will allow you the opportunity to decipher if the interaction was being blinded by anger or not and provide you an opportunity to respond more effectively.

  1. Jump into your child’s shoes.

When your children, or partners, get upset or angry it can trigger us to react with our flight and fright responses, and our instinctive reaction is to protect and defend ourselves, making the other person the enemy. This can attribute towards momentary clouded judgement, that prevents us from seeing others perspective. Think, when was the last time you admitted fault when you were upset?

  1. Restore calm and safety within the interaction.

There’s no way you can support a child to calm, if you aren’t calming yourself. Take a few breaths, reset, and consider your initial assumptions. In taking some time to reset before responding we are able to enter back into our window of tolerance, enabling us to respond rather than react. If that’s not an option right now and you need to take some time? Take it! Walk away, have a drink of water, and return once you’re calm.

From here, once you’re calm, you can attempt to have another go, through reconnecting to your child through validation of both of your feelings. For example, “gosh, we are both feeling pretty upset.” This allows for reconnection, that you are in this together.

Then, empathise with the cause of their anger/frustration and try to understand what it is their trying to communicate either verbally or through their behaviour. Remember that anger doesn’t disappear until it feels heard.

  1. Set a good example: always apologise after you lose it.

Remember that your children learn most about the world through their interactions with key role models in their lives, including you. Yes, they learn through modelled examples when you yell, but also when you apologise. Importantly, resist your inclination to blame your child and their behaviour for the reason you yelled (even if you have asked them to get off the iPad). So, for example, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, I am really tired and was frustrated. But that’s not an excuse, it wasn’t fair, and I am sorry. Let’s try again,” allows for repair and sets boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable.

  1. Be proactive to prevent being reactive

Once all the dust has settled, pause for a moment to reflect and consider any possible steps that you can take to prevent you losing it again? Ask yourself questions like:

  • Was this a one off? Or does it seem to be happening more lately? Remember, everyone is finding right now challenging and as a result we may be quick to lose it. You are not alone.
  • Are there any themes or similarly to when I lose it? This could include lethargy, hunger, times of the day such as transitioning tasks or dinner time.
  • Was there any thing that could have been done in the lead up to me losing it? How can I plan to do it differently next time?
  1. Show yourself some compassion and kindness!

This is an important aspect of the role of prevention, however one that deserves a standalone point. Never before have we found ourselves in such an uncertain challenging time. There is now the added pressure of living, working, schooling from home on top uncertainty due to financial concerns, restrictions on outdoor activities, social events, and visiting family friends, to name just a few.

It is completely OKAY, if not NORMAL, to be feeling overwhelmed with the challenges we face right now.

Not only are you holding your own worries, but you may also be holding the worries of your partner, children and wider family or community. It’s a lot to take in and hold. But in the words of a wise woman, this too, shall pass.*

Jenny Jensen

Provisional Psychologist

Australian Childhood Trauma Group

*This very wise woman is our clinical lead, Yasodha Samaranayake.