Quench the emotional fire of your children

Published 9:01 am Sunday, October 16, 2016

QUESTION: What do I do when my child simply isn’t rational?

ANSWER: Talking rationally doesn’t work when a child is on fire emotionally. Your child may be calling you names, throwing himself on the floor, seething in the corner or shooting daggers at you with her eyes. That emotional fire has to be put out before there can be any useful conversation.

Motion changes emotion. Research shows that movement or playing with something tactile is a tool to help a child calm down when he or she is upset. As child psychologist Kirk Martin says, instead of trying to control your child’s behavior in the very intense moments, try leading your child to calm by controlling yourself.

You start doing something physical in the presence of your child. Get down on the floor and begin doing push ups. Start doing jumping jacks. Sit and play with some Legos. Begin drawing and coloring. Invite your child to jump on the mini-trampoline.  Get the catcher’s mitt and softball to go outside and play catch.

I know a dad who has said to his children that when he gets really frustrated, he runs around the outside of the house seven times really fast. When his children get really upset, he acknowledges that he’s really upset, too, and invites them to join him in running laps around the house, and then he starts running.  The kids usually watch for the first couple laps and then join him. By the end of the seventh lap, they are all winded, but calm. They collapse on the steps and talk.  Unusual? Probably. Effective? Definitely.

When my oldest was a pre-schooler, there were times when power struggles could get pretty intense. One day I found the positive power of stopping the struggle by dropping to my knees and saying, “This isn’t working, we need to stop and start over again.” I opened my arms wide, inviting a big hug — an unspoken invitation that was accepted. After we had held on to each other for a full minute, we would get engaged in something pleasant together. Problem-solving the issue occurred later in the day without the distress.

If you would like to talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in child- raising, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 877-434-9528. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out www.familiesandcommunities.org and free resources at the Parenting Resource Center Specialty Library (105 First Street SE, Austin).