While school breaks can create new opportunities for family adventures and cherished memories, it can also increase behavior issues at home. Many kids lose their predictable schedule during breaks, which can cause them to test boundaries or respond with angry outbursts when bored or lacking routine. If your sunny days are being dampened by a child’s behavior, here are a few tips to get things back on track.
Don’t Feed the Fire
When a child throws a fit, a parent’s job is to help neutralize the situation and allow the child to calm down. Avoid the impulse to respond by getting angry or frustrated yourself and try to avoid arguing back. You’ll gain more from backing off and taking some deep breaths rather than continuing to feed the fire. Help your child learn that while getting frustrated is a natural part of life, throwing a fit isn’t going to get them more attention or get their needs met.
Designate a Quiet Space for Calming Down
A human brain’s capacity to experience and express emotions develops far earlier than the brain’s capacity for prefrontal reasoning. Because of this, a child or teen may be more likely to have an emotional outburst when frustrated rather than a reasonable response. Give your child a space to calm down and allow their reasoning brain to catch up with their emotional brain. Encourage them to come back and discuss the issue once they’ve calmed down. Then ask them to help you come up with a strategy for dealing with it more effectively in the future. Help your child learn that they can walk away and take a break when they feel frustrated, but they still need to deal with the situation once they feel able to do so.
Seek the Source
Try to empathize with your child’s feelings to identify the basic motivation behind the outburst. Do they have a basic need that isn’t being met – such as need for play, attention, or calmness? Can they get what they need – in a more mutually agreeable manner – to avoid frustration in the future? For instance, if your child is frustrated because they don’t want to stop playing their favorite video game, they’re probably fulfilling a need for play and relaxation. To fulfill this need, agree on a designated time and space that allows them to enjoy their playtime, while being mindful that this time is limited and they’ll lose it if they don’t stick to the schedule.
Be Your Child’s Emotional Role Model
You can help shape your child’s response to frustration by being their emotional role model. Remember that you can only expect your child to respond to frustration as well as you do, so be thoughtful about your own emotional responses. Try to role model ways to deal with difficult situations effectively rather than with anger. Demonstrate the quiet fortitude it takes to complete a difficult task and take breaks when you feel yourself becoming frustrated.
Children learn that it’s safe to explore and take risks when parents promote security and consistency at home. Be sure that you and your partner agree on your parenting strategy and present a united front when coaching, disciplining, and rewarding your child. Work on repeating a calm and consistent response to your child’s behavior so that they learn what behavior doesn’t work and what promotes the most positive outcome for everyone.
If your child’s temper tantrums become more frequent or more violent, they may be dealing with a more serious issue than just normal, age-appropriate frustration. In these circumstances, consider seeking the support of a PRO Medical child psychologist. You may also find it helpful to speak with a PRO Medical counselor about issues related to parenting or meet with a therapist to create a cohesive parenting plan with your spouse.
By Madeline Kilpatrick, MSW, LICSW a PRO Medical Counselor at PRO Medical
Madeline specializes in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which helps clients learn new skills to manage painful emotions and decrease conflict in relationships. DBT focuses on mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. These skills improve an individual’s ability to tolerate negative emotions, manage intense emotions and strengthen relationships by improving the ability to communicate. Madeline has worked in the field of mental health since 2007.