“Every day it’s another temper tantrum!”
“All she does is roll her eyes and slam doors.”
I regularly hear comments like this from parents in regards to their children and teens. Parents become exasperated with their kids’ behavioral issues and, because they’re fallible human beings, they respond in kind and sometimes even rant about their kids to friends and family members or in online forums.
Parenting is hard. It requires consistent, concerted effort, and we often fear that our feeble attempts will never bear fruit. But we won’t make things better by yelling at our kids to, “Just shape up!” And, while seeking wise counsel is one thing, it certainly won’t help to air their dirty laundry on the internet.
One thing that can make a difference is choosing to coach them in how to specifically express their needs.
A crying baby is actually doing just that as best he can. Because he’s pre-verbal, his mom or dad must take time to discover the cause of his angst. But he will stop crying when we’ve figured it out. And we can begin the process of teaching him to express his needs by talking to him as we aim to sooth him: “Jimmy, are you wet? Let’s see about that. Oh, honey, no, it’s not that, is it? Do you think you’re hungry? I know you just ate but maybe you’re starting a growth spurt. What do you think?” Babies learn to speak by being spoken to, and they will learn to express their specific needs by hearing us acknowledge them as we understand them.
As babies grow into toddlerhood and beyond, we need to continue and expand upon the coaching process. Instead of scolding a three-year old for having a tantrum, we must discover ways to keep her safe in the midst of it – that may mean letting her cry it out on the living room floor or it might mean holding her tight as she sobs – and then, when the storm has passed, comfort her while talking her through the situation – i.e., by asking specific questions and helping her to find the words she needs.
If we commit to this process from early-on – such that our children know we are a safe refuge as they navigate their life experiences and feelings – we probably won’t ever get to the eye rolls and door slams. But we can ameliorate that behavior as well, if we are willing to take the time our teens need. An angry teen may need some time alone, but we mustn’t let her stay there. In many ways, teens are simply toddlers in bigger bodies, and we must comfort them, listen to them, and actively coach them in using specific language to express themselves just as we did when they were younger.
Kids don’t come to us all put together. When they “freak out,” it’s because they’re hurt and confused. And – as the people on earth who should love them best – they need our intentional, invested help. When we incrementally coach them, they will grow into the healthy, motivated adults we want them to be.
Photo Credit: 365psd