Staying connected, even through conflict.
Question of the week.
Sometimes my 6 year old gets really angry when things don't go his way. What does gentle firmness look like when they're kicking and screaming?
Firstly, it's a big job being a frustrated small child. You have the mighty task of persuading an adult in your life, who holds all the keys to the important stuff (the biscuit tin, the screens, the agenda) that your way is better. That task has to be done without many years of experience and without the filter of a fully developed pre-frontal cortex - the part of our brain that governs rationale and reason. Yes, our children are driven by instincts, without rationale (Some adults are too, but that's a whole different issue!)
In the muddle, where their seemingly greatest need hits our well thought through boundary, they can get quite heated. They can say things they don't mean and they can even do it in the most public setting possible. It's in these conflicts of opinion that we need to keep the boundary in place, but also to be sure we don't withdraw our love and affection. What a paradox.
Two neat little messages here are quite enough. All they can see is the thing they want and the rest is just red mist. Trying to get any sane reason across to them in that moment is wasted wisdom.
The messages we want to convey are that we care and that we won't give in to that behaviour. But they're not easy sentences for a little one to understand, so something simpler helps.
Firstly, agree with their frustration. They may have had too many biscuits already and asking for one more is totally unreasonable, of course you can't agree with that. But what you can agree with is that it's hard for them. After all, in their world it feels wrong, unfair, disastrous. So sentences like "I know this is hard for you." are affirming of their emotions rather than conflicting with them. Any logic at this point will only insight them to up their game.
The next little sentence that's worked well for us and many others is "I'm ready to listen to you when You're speaking nicely." There are lots of good versions of this, but that's the gist of it.
Will your child stop in their tracks, tell you that's a cracking idea, calm down and relax? Unlikely, but here are some positives....
You're not shouting.
You're not floundering for a response that will calm them down.
A chosen response is empowering.
Over time and different experiences they'll learn that anger and abuse don't get the results they want
They'll hear that you understand the frustration it's causing them because you've agreed with the emotion (not the request)
They'll realise that going on and on at you isn't provoking you. They'll just hear the sentence again....and again.
You're modelling good boundaries
Your words are positive not negative (I'm ready to speak to you, rather than, I'm not listening until...)
We all feel distressed from time to time. Emotions are healthy, but what we do with them isn't always (slamming doors, kicking, shouting). Understanding that it's difficult, yet keeping your boundary in place helps them to feel understood without you having to give in. That is a safe place for a child.