Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why does my child flip out after a fun day?

Picture this: you, your spouse and your three children have just spent the entire day at the funnest place you know of, Six Flags.  All three of your children ten, seven and five have admitted to having a great time and they have all been really well behaved too.  No arguments, no sibling issues, a wonderful day had by all. Your children did not even argue about leaving, which amazed you.  You are patting yourself on the back thinking a perfect day with the perfect family. Then suddenly screams erupt.  The ten year old hit the seven year old and the five year old is trying to take the toy that the seven-year old won.  Why did this happen?  Well there may be a few reasons.

Your children simply may be over tired and over stimulated.   Every parent knows that a toddler who is over tired is more likely to have a temper tantrum.  This is also true for older children.  When exhaustion sets in, it becomes very difficult to keep the emotions from coming forward.  The smallest, seemingly insignificant thing can set your children off.

Hunger or thirst might be another reason your children are acting up.  Even if they have just eaten, a long exhausting day can take a lot out of a child.  They may not realize how much they want to eat or drink until they get into a quiet car and start to think about it.  If your children are used to eating healthy food and then have a day where they eat “junk food” and sugary snacks, their bodies might be calling out for the good food they normally eat.

However, there is another reason your children flip out after a fun-filled family day.  By spending that family time together you have provided your children a safe place to let their emotions out.  Spending a day at an amusement park or any other fun-filled time all together, builds bonds.  These bonds make your children feel safe.  When your children feel safe, they are more likely to let their emotions and frustrations out.   It is a very good thing for your child to be allowed to release those emotions.  They just never seem to do it when it is convenient for us.  But then again, when is that ever convenient?

If you want to avoid complete meltdowns in your young children, try limiting the time there or planning the event so that they can take a rest. Make sure they stay well hydrated and bring some foods they are used to eating.  The biggest way to avoid these big meltdowns after family fun days is to allow your children to express anger and frustration to you every day.  If you allow them to get out their emotions every day, it will be less likely to build up and “explode” during or after these special days. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How can I get my child to cooperate when it's time to go?

Imagine you are at a dinner party with your spouse. You are talking with some friends you have not seen for a while and you are having a great time catching up with them. Suddenly your spouse walks over to you and says “It’s time to go, get your stuff, I am going to the car.” What would your reaction be? It would most likely not be a positive one.

This is a lot like what we expect out of our children every day. Whether it is a trip to the park or time spent at home, our children become engrossed in their play time. Their imaginations are constantly running. For us to break that flow of creativity to tell them it’s time to go somewhere they have no choice in or control over is a lot like your spouse telling you to leave a party you are enjoying.

Children, like most adults, need to be given some warning of what is to come. They may not completely understand what “5 more minutes” feels like, but giving them some warning that the time to end the “game” is coming can make that disappointment a bit more manageable.

If when at that dinner party, your spouse were to instead come up to you quietly and say “I am going to be ready to leave in 5 minutes,” would your reaction be more pleasant. You would be given the chance finish your conversation and say goodbye to those you needed to say goodbye to.

It is also a good idea to prepare your child for what is to come in the day. Over breakfast you can say “today we have to go to the bank, get groceries and mail the present to Grandpa. After that we can go to the library for story time.” This is a lot like you and your spouse discussing how long you are planning on staying at the dinner party. It gives your children a map of the day and lets them see what is coming.

Giving your children some choices in the day’s activities can also help make the transition a little easier. If you are running errands, give them the list of what needs to be done and ask them what they want to do first.

Sometimes we adults don’t understand the importance of play so make sure you build plenty of play time into your day. Perhaps if you were to spend some play time with your children at the beginning of the day, they would be emotionally ready for the busy day ahead.

Children who are over-tired or over-stimulated are more likely to fight against transition. Avoid letting your child get to this point. Watch how many things you try to cram into your day. Remember that we adults get cranky too when we are tired.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How should I respond when my children fight?

When your children are fighting and bickering, as a parent your instinct is to run and fix the problem or separate them. This is your first reaction because you believe that it is your job to teach them not to fight with people. This is a noble and proper goal, but fixing the problem does not teach your children to get along. It teaches them that fighting with each other gets them attention. Generally the loudest yeller gets heard the most. This means that you are also teaching your children to scream loud and tattle on their siblings.

The best thing you can do for your own sanity and for your children when they are fighting is to step back and let them work it out. As a parent and nanny I know this is next to impossible. It is hard to listen to the yelling and often times your children ask you to get involved. However, if you want your children to learn to not fight, you need to let them work it out on their own whenever you possibly can.

The exception to this rule is in the event of physical violence. When things get physical, respond the way you would if one of your children hit another child outside of the family. Let them know that it is okay to use your words to get a point across to someone else but that hitting, punching, biting or pushing is not acceptable.

One or both of your children may try to drag you into the argument. When this tattling happens tell them both “I know you and your sister can work out the problem together. I believe you can do it”. This statement helps in a few ways. One, it allows you to respond to their request but does not involve you in the situation. Two, it empowers them to come up with a solution. By saying “I believe you can work it out” you are expressing the confidence you have in their abilities and giving them the little push they need to be creative and come up with a resolution.

If the child that started the argument is the one that attempts to drag you into it, there is a good chance it is because that child is feeling disconnected from you. It may be time to have a little “special” time with him or her. I have stated in the blog post “How can I stop Sibling Rivalry” that often times siblings fighting with each other is a sign they need time to connect with their parents or caregivers. When you notice an increase in the bickering make note of how much personal attention you have given each of your children. It may be time to spend a little extra time with that child.

Constantly separating your children from each other will never teach them how to work together. Working with other people is such an important lesson to learn. It will help them in school, playing with others and eventually help them into adult hood. If your children argue and always have someone come and mediate the situation, they will not learn how to compromise and get along on their own.

This is tough and there will always be times that you use your best judgment as a loving parent and intervene during your children’s quarrel. However, taking a step back and allowing them to attempt to work things out is going to be the best thing for them in the end.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How can I stop sibling rivalry?

If you have more than one child, sibling rivalry is inevitable.  Sorry to break the news, but it is.  Most parents see only the negative side of sibling rivalry; however; it can be a good thing too.  Human relationships grow closer through strife.  When I argue with my husband or a friend, the process of working through our disagreement brings us closer together.  Children need to be given the opportunity to learn to work out disagreements with people in their life and the place they begin to do this is at home with brothers and sisters. 

These arguments can range from not sharing a toy to screaming and punching.  As a parents we worry that our children will really hurt each other, both physically and emotionally.  Though completely stopping sibling rivalry is not possible, there are a few things you can do to help manage it. 

Sibling rivalry starts pretty much the moment a new child enters the house.  The way you introduce your new child to your older children can make a big difference.  As you talk to your older children, tell them what it will be like to have a new brother or sister.  Let your children know a few ways they can help the new child.  Be sure to say that you have enough love to go around.  Warning them that you will need to spend time with the new child will help prepare them for the transition.  Reassure them that you will always make time for them too.

This individual time with each child is going to be one of the most important ways you curb the disagreements between your children.   Spending individual time with each of your children will work to meet the emotional needs they have for connection.  As you meet your children's need to be with you, they will have less need to lash out at his siblings.  

One mistake parents frequently make is believing that being fair to their children means you treat them exactly the same.  Each one of your children has different things they are good at and things they struggle with.  Giving them the same treatment can actually work to drive a wedge between them and cause more arguments.  On the surface it seems like the opposite would be true, having uneven rules and rewards would cause your children to be jealous that the other child is “allowed” to do something that they are not.  

It all goes back to the emotional needs of your children being met.  If your child senses that he is being recognized and celebrated for the things he is good at and given extra help in the areas he is not, he will be less likely to feel the need to argue and fight with his siblings.   There will always be rules everyone has to follow, but it is important to look at the individual child’s gifts and problems.  

Look back next week for some tips on how to respond when your children fight.