Linda Martin, what were you thinking?  Storming off the stage to confront Billy McGuinness, after verbally attacking him as an ‘odious little man’ in front of a TV audience of thousands. (Replay on the Irish Examiner webpage.) 

It seems TV loves it when chaos erupts during a live performance – reality TV at its ‘finest’ but what are our children learning about human interaction?

Are we adults giving a message that if somebody says something you don’t like or agree with:

– it’s okay to insult them

– it’s okay to make them feel small in front of others

– it’s okay to bring other unrelated comments into the argument?

(‘You may not be used to dealing with women with brains’  – Linda, what is that saying about your opinion of the many woman who interact with Billy McGuiness, including Laura O’Neill!)

What was Linda hoping to achieve?  She’s a fine lady and we’re proud of her contribution to our country.  I just wish she’d used this opportunity to model  graciousness. What I want my children to know is how to have a good clean fight that improves understanding and restores relationship.

So for Linda Martin and for any parent who wants to raise their child’s level of Emotional Intelligence, here are ten top tips on how to use Anger constructively.

* You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.

* When you get angry the reactive part of your brain takes control, so your clear thinking temporarily shuts down. So rather than blurting out the first thing that jumps onto your tongue, focus on your breathing.  Breathe in 1-2-3-4-5-6-7- out 8-9-10-11 several times. You’ll get more oxygen into the brain, you’ll become calmer, your thinking brain will reengage

* Ask yourself, ‘What really matters here?’  (If you were to look back on this incident in ten years’ time, what would you like to remember?)

* The person’s behaviour is about them; your response is about you.

* Two wrongs never make a right.

* It’s never ok to insult another.  Treat others as you would like to be treated, even (or especially) when you’re angry.

* When there’s an issue that needs to be discussed, stick to that topic only and don’t allow any other issue to contaminate the space.

* Anger is always a signal, ‘I need change.’  (So figure out how to create the change you need. And sometimes the only change you can make is the way you think about something).

* Anger and aggression are not the same thing.  I feel angry but when I act out of that anger it becomes aggression.  Aggression is never pretty, helpful or healing in any relationship.

* My feelings are never wrong, providing I never use them as weapons against anyone, including myself.

What  tip would YOU add to this list about Managing Anger?

Nearly fifteen years ago I started a programme that introduced preschoolers to basic Emotional Intelligence, including what to do when you’re feeling angry.  I was so amazed at the children’s enthusiastic and wise response to this work that it began my path of working with parents so that families can:

think more clearly,

connect more compassionately,

behave more response-ably

and live more joyfully.

If you’d like to discover more, I’m running a six week evening Parenting Course in Douglas, Cork: How to Listen so your child Will Talk

and also Kinsale: ‘BEHAVE – what to do when your child won’t’ (based on Val Mullally’s forthcoming book)

Last edited March 21st 2014

“My toddler screams  when her 4 year old sister ‘bugs’ her. What to do?”

It makes sense that when a toddler uses screaming to protest, it can be jarring for you – and especially so if you’re worrying about neighbours being disturbed.
I suspect that this isn’t an easy ‘one day fix’ situation but it’s going to take time to bring the change you need.

So here’s eight tips towards dealing with this challenge.

1. Create in your mind a clear picture of what you DO want instead of this screaming behaviour. It’s obvious that you want ‘calm’ but what does this ‘calm’ look and sound like on a day to day basis?

Try finishing these sentence stems for yourself:

‘I want to feel … ‘ (Find three words to describe how you’d like to feel with your children).

‘I’d like the atmosphere in our home to be …’ (Find three words to describe how you’d like the atmosphere to be).

When you have a clear picture of what you’d like home to be like you’ll have a point of reference to steer towards during the frustrating moments.

2. How we think about any situation is likely to impact how we react or respond. If we’re thinking ‘This is awful’ / ‘I can’t cope.’ / ‘I don’t know what to do.’ – we’re going to add to our own stress levels, which means we’ll be pushing cortisol into our own systems and be less likely to think clearly and create the results we really want.  Remind yourself that this is an opportunity for learning and that you can figure out what’s needed. As one wise grandmother said,’This too shall pass.’ Just knowing this is a phase can help you to stay calmer, and think more clearly about what’s needed.

3. A toddler’s brain is still ‘under construction’. The reasoning  part of her brain that expresses itself through language is not yet adequately formed.  This means that when she’s overwhelmed she’s likely to scream or lash out.  Trying to reason, particularly when she’s upset, won’t work.

4. I’m not saying that letting her scream, or giving her whatever she wants, is the answer. Very often the most helpful course of action is to distract her or to rechannel her energy.

5. We may wonder if it will be helpful to ignore behaviour that bugs us. What matters is that we ‘listen to the behaviour’. What is she trying to express through this behaviour?

Perhaps at different times her behaviour is trying to say:

‘I need a bit of space from my sister.’

‘I want to do this MYSELF. I don’t want my big sister to do it for me. ‘

‘I feel overwhelmed when….’

Reflect on how you might respond to her need if she could express it in words.

6. So what do we do instead?  Firstly try to pre-empt the situation. One tool that helps with this is to keep a brief diary – recording the upsets. Record details like:

What time of day (e.g. early morning, supper time)

What else was happening? What’s the outcome?

Just as a diary can be a useful tool to discover food allergy problems, once you start recognising the pattern, you’ll have a sense of what’s causing the  eruptions. It’s likely you’ll find that the upsets often happen around a transition time – when the family is moving from one activity to another. When you can identify the causes, you’ll be able to figure out  what’s needed.

7. This is not just about your toddler, it’s also about your four year old.  Ask yourself, ‘In what way/s is this working for her?’

‘What might her behaviour be trying to tell me?’   When you’re calm reflect on what her needs might be: perhaps some time alone with you?

8. It could be helpful to involve your four year old in helping you to find solutions to this challenge.  If she feels part of creating a  solution, she’s more likely to co-operate.  See my YouTube clip ‘Power Struggle for more about this.

Other posts you might find interesting:

Have I messed up my kid? 

It’s only a tin can

Toddler Upset – 10 tips to Responsive Parenting 

Parents – be kind to yourselves

Last edited July 04th 2016

Like most mothers, I constantly strive to achieve harmony in my home and help my children know the difference between right and wrong. Many parents, crèches, early education centers and primary schools use a ‘bold step’ or ‘bold chair’ where the child who has misbehaved must sit and take ‘time out’ from an activity until they are invited back by the parent or teacher.  Even Supernanny on television is a big fan of the ‘bold step’ and ‘time out’ concepts.

I have never been comfortable with the parenting tool of ‘time out’ but I couldn’t see any alternatives.  When I did use it, I always felt like it was a battle of wits between myself and my son. The scene would play out as follows: him acting in a manner which I felt warranted punishment, me telling him to go sit on the bold step, him refusing, me ordering him to go, him still refusing, me dragging him there, him getting up, me putting him back etc. etc. By this stage, both of us have lost our heads and neither is thinking rationally. What could be the possible learning point here for any child? I, for one, cannot see any benefit for either him or me.  However, in the absence of an alternative, I continued periodically to force my son to take ‘time out’.

One of the things that made some difference was helping my son to try to control his anger. For example, when his sister annoyed him, his immediate reaction had been to lash out. I suggested counting to ten, taking a deep breath or walking away.  However, if the behaviour continued, I would have then ordered him to the ‘bold step’ and we’d be back to the battle of wits.

For the past six months I have been on a parent coaching course with Koemba and as a result have had my eyes opened to alternatives when it comes to disciplining my children.  Besides the helpful tools and insights on the course itself, one of the features is reading and reviewing books on parenting. In his book entitled ‘Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason’, Alfie Kohn describes time out as ‘a version of love withdrawal when children are sent away against their will’. He believes that by removing the child, you might get the behaviour to cease but it is only a short term solution.  It doesn’t examine what’s causing the behavior. He states ‘it is the child who engages in a behaviour, not just the behavior itself that matters’.

Kohn provides a number of alternatives to time out as follows:

1. If possible talk to your child and try to ascertain the reason for the behavior and explain why the behavior in question is not helpful;

2. If the child needs to first of all calm down, ask him/her if they would benefit from taking some time to themselves, e.g. in their room.  It’s important that the child does not feel they are being forced to take time out;

3. If the child does not want to take time to himself/herself but it’s not appropriate to leave them where the behavior occurred, then the parent, as a last resort could remove the child and stay with them.

‘The Whole-Brain Child’ by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson is a very interesting parenting book. It describes how a child’s brain develops and explains the difference between the left and right sides of the brain.  When a child is upset, they are overwhelmed with right brain emotions and cannot employ left brain logic until they are calmer.  The authors recommend that when a child is flooded with right brain emotions, parents should initially respond with their own right brains instead of trying to reason with the child which would mean using the left side of the brain. Responding with our right brain could mean making soothing sounds, being present for your child, listening attentively.  I really like the following quote: “when parent and child are tuned in to each other, they experience a sense of joining together”. Once the child has calmed down, the parent can then apply logic and reason.

This book also explains how the upstairs and downstairs of the brain differ. Shortly after reading this section in the Whole-brain Child, I explained to my six year old son about “flipping the lid”.  I showed him the illustrations in the book which were created specifically for children. They describe how our lids get flipped when we are cross or upset about something.  It is only when we are calm, and our lids are back down, that we can be start to think clearly again. My son understood this message immediately.  He was now able to put a label on how he felt when he got angry and wanted to lash out.

Since then my son has been learning to identify the signs when he is about to flip his lid.  Even when he does lose his cool, he knows that he then needs to take time to himself until he calms down. He is effectively taking ownership of his own time out instead of me forcing it on him. Sometimes I just say, “Maybe you should go upstairs until you calm down” but most times he just goes to his room without any prompting. He then returns when he decides he is calm, not when I tell him to. That could be after two minutes or anything up to ten minutes later.  When he returns we discuss what caused him to lose his cool, how he could have handled the situation differently, how he would likely deal with a similar scenario in the future, how he felt when he flipped his lid, how he feels now and how he thinks others involved in the incident felt.

While my 6 year old son is happy to go off on his own until he calms down, my 4 year old daughter takes a different approach.  When she is upset and has flipped her lid, she wants me to stay with her while she calms down.  She often wants me to hold her while she does this.  Maybe, over time, she will follow her brother’s example and go to   her room, but for now having me there is helpful for her.  So, where an argument comes to a head between the two of them, he takes off to his room to calm down and she stays with me. When he returns with his lid back down and when she is calm again, we discuss the argument in a rational and non judgmental way.  We all learn and grow   from these experiences.

It has been amazing seeing my son and daughter develop in this way, taking control of their own emotions. In fact, my son recently said to me,

“Mam, you’ve just flipped your lid”.

That stopped me in my tracks and when I’d calmed down, I thanked him for pointing that out to me and explained that everyone loses their cool from time to time.

The bold step no longer features in my house. In fact my daughter has never been on it and I don’t envisage ever using it for my 2 year old son. It’s great to know that there are alternatives to smacking children or using ‘time out’. It’s up to every parent to find the one that best fits their family and their quest for harmony in their home.

 

Marie Reilly

Mother and Trainee Parent Coach

April 2012

 

 

Last edited October 21st 2015