Did you see Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’?

Every parent can find a treasure trove of Parenting incidents in this film that can challenge you to think about how to be the mindful parent you’d love to be – or the ‘parent -from-hell’ you never want to be, especially if you’re facing a transition. Parenting is always more challenging at a time of relocation  – whether you’re moving house, moving country, or facing a change like your child starting a new school.

When family stresses overwhelm us, even the ‘dream child’ can become a serious parenting headache, as we see with Disney Pixar’s character Riley. If you haven’t seen the film, even watching the ‘Inside Out’ trailer gives a taste of what can lie in store for the unsuspecting parent when regular family life is thrown off balance.

Perhaps you’ve already experienced a moment when your precious, well-behaved child suddenly becomes the disdainful pre-teen – who answers you back, rolls her eyes or storms out the room.

‘What happened to my sweet co-operative child?’ you ask yourself. ‘How do I get my child to behave?’ The thing is, you can’t. You can’t make any child behave. But, even when you are under stress, you can figure out how to respond in a way that’s more likely to create co-operation. Here’s how:

Eight Tips to Turn Your Family Upset into an Opportunity for Connection

1. Don’t let your Anger have the driving seat

Like Riley’s home, a little incident can easily escalate. Riley’s dad let his Anger take command, and within seconds, the incident down-spiralled into out-of-control conflict.

Riley’s Dad didn’t have to let Anger dictate – it was his choice.

 2. Keep control of your emotions.

The thing is, either you are in charge of your emotions or your emotions are in charge of you.  Riley needed her dad to remain the parent, to stay in a calm place, especially when her emotions were getting out of control. Your children need you to remain the adult.

 3. Mind the gap!

There’s a momentary ‘pause’ in every incident where you can let your emotions take control, or where you can focus on your breathing, and centre yourself, so that you can figure out what’s needed.

4. Ask yourself, ‘What really matters here?’ 

The outcome of a parent letting Anger take command can be disastrous. Riley’s family crisis could have ended up being a parent’s worse nightmare. For every action there is a reaction. I’m not saying that Riley’s eye-rolling behaviour was acceptable – but it’s when, where and how a parent deals with reactive behaviour that makes the difference.

5. HALT – what’s going on for your child!

Stop – for just a second and ask yourself ‘Is she Hungry/ Angry / Anxious / Lonely / iLL or Tired?’  Responding to your child’s ‘HALT’ needs will often defuse a potential crisis.

(You can discover more about the HALT signpost and other useful tools on the Koemba  ‘BEHAVE -What To Do When Your Child Won’t’ Online Parenting Course).
Take a moment to think about the situation from Riley’s perspective, she was ‘Hungry’ for her old home and probably also hungry for her parents’ attention (they were both worried and stressed about the house move, the furniture not arriving and the new job). In fact, if you think about all that’s been going on for Riley, you will probably also figure she was ‘Angry’ ‘Anxious’, ‘Lonely’ and ‘Tired’. This child needs support!

6. Ask yourself, ‘What might my child’s behaviour be telling me?’  

Using HALT as a guide, when you listen to your child’s behaviour, you’ll figure out what’s needed. When you are in a situation like Riley’s parents, you might not be able to provide an easy or immediate solution, but with the ‘HALT’ signpost to guide you, you will be able to see your child’s perspective. You’ll be able figure out together what’s possible, when you’re working as a team.

7. HALT – what’s going on for you!

Remember you’re not ‘super-mum’ or ‘super-dad’. You won’t always respond in an ideal way.  There are times when Anger (or Fear, Disgust or Sadness) might grab control. Go for a walk. Regain your calm.  HALT – and ask yourself, ‘Am I Hungry/ Angry / Anxious / Lonely / iLL or Tired?’ Riley’s dad had been so busy trying to sort out the stresses the family were facing he hadn’t taken time to recharge his own batteries. You can’t be the parent you’d love to be if you’re not minding your own needs too.

If he’d taken time to relax with Riley (or with himself!) he’d have been in a better place to respond helpfully to her.

8. Build in time for fun as a family.  

When we’re under stress taking time for fun is the first thing to go out the window. But ‘feel good’ experiences release endorphins into your system, which counteract the stress chemicals, which reduces your likelihood of reacting unhelpfully. Fun as a family matters most when you think you can least afford it. It will be easier to deal effectively with the upsets when you and your family are more relaxed.

And a final thought:  At the start of this incident Riley’s mum is trying to be kind and understanding – but they still have a family meltdown. The secret is  – it’s all about timing. The more your child moves towards her teen years, the more will be her need for autonomy, for doing things HER way. She’ll tell you what she wants you to know in her way and in her time. If you try to force the connection, rather than let it unfold naturally when she’s ready to talk, you could be heading for meltdown. If she resists connection, give her space, remain approachable, create opportunities for fun and relax together. Build the sense of connection so she’ll want to want to share with you whats going on for her. If you’re really worried, seek professional help.