When a child is going through a difficult time, it’s hard for a parent to know how to help. Here are five useful tips on how to support your upset child.

What can a parent do!

A key skill is to remain in “approach” mode.

Teddy bears hug

In every relationship the other person experiences us as being in “attack”, “avoid’ or “approach mode”.

Samantha has been trying to stay in tune with her daughter over these past few days. She’s heard a deluge: I hate school, I haven’t got any friends, The teachers are stupid, Nobody cares. I don’t want to go to school. 

How does a parent respond! 

She takes a deep breath. 

“Okay, Paula. So you don’t want to go to school. You can stay home tomorrow, BUT …” 

Samantha takes a long, deep pause trying to figure out what she’s going to say. But she doesn’t get a chance. 

“You’re just like them. You don’t care!” Her daughter slams out the room. 

“What did I do wrong!” Samantha is mystified. 

 

Samantha didn’t realise her child’s brain registered the long pause, followed by her heavy “BUT… ” as an “attack”.

The thing is, it’s not what we intend that counts – it’s the message the other person receives that will influence the interaction.

The thing is, when a child already feels overwhelmed it’s easy for them to misinterpret a parent’s signals and they can easily experience the parent as being in “attack” or “avoid” mode. This is only going to add to a child’s distress.

Your child’s unreasonable outburst may be upsetting, but realise it is exactly that  – “un-reason-able”. The behaviour stems from the child being “unable to reason” because at times of high stress the “thinking brain” temporarily goes offline. The child snaps into a “fight or flight” reaction.  Samantha’s prolonged, heavy pause was all that was needed for her stressed child to experience her as another attacker.

Crying child

What Not To Do When Your Child Is Upset

#1 Don’t tell your child to “Be reasonable.”

Right now the deep, reactive “reptilian brain” has seized control. It’s impossible for your child to reason once they have dropped into this reactive state. Until she’s calmed down, she IS un-reason-able!

#2 Don’t try help your child  find solutions whilst upset

It won’t work to try help your child find solutions whilst upset because the human brain cannot see options and imagine consequences while the “thinking brain” is “offline”.  First connect and support your child to regain calm.

#3 Don’t tell her, “It’s not really such a big thing,” or “It will be all right.”

At this moment it doesn’t feel like it will ever be all right again. She’s hurting and her reptilian brain is registering “PAIN!”, which means your child can’t see beyond that point until she regains her calm.

#4 Don’t compare

E.g. “You used to like school.” “Your sister is happy there.” 

Here earlier experience doesn’t negate what’s she’s feeling now. Somebody else’s experience isn’t hers.

#5 Don’t tell her to calm down

That’s like telling the cloud to stop raining.  When this level of tension has been reached, the strong emotion will temporarily overwhelm.

parent and child hug

So what can a parent do?

 Five Useful Tips On How To Support Your Upset Child

TIP #1  Recognise your  upset child is unable to reason

At this point, your child can’t see another point of view or imagine possible consequences to her actions until she has calmed down and returned to “whole brain thinking”.  So don’t expend your energy trying to achieve the impossible!

TIP #2 Focus on remaining calm and in “approach” mode

Staying calm is the only way to park your own anxiety and keep your “thinking brain” online. And this matters because there needs to be at least one thinking brain online to find the way through the current upset!  For more on this see my e-book  “Stop Yelling – 9 Steps to Calmer Happier Parenting”.

TIP #3   Tune in to your child’s experience

If your brain is busy imagining the letter you will write to the teacher, what you’d like to say to those other kids, worrying that your child might drop out of school, then your brain is in another world and not focusing on your child’s world, which is where you can support her right now. There will be time to find solutions later. Right now focus on being present to your child and to her experience. Imagine crossing the bridge into her world experience and seeing the situation through her eyes.

TIP #4 Empathise with your child

As you tune in to your child’s experience seek to understand what she might be feeling. Anxious, lonely, angry, frustrated? Don’t try to “change” her feeling. Feelings are what feelings are. Once she has a sense of her life experience being understood and validated, she’ll sense you being in “approach” mode and then be able to calm down. (Even though that might not be immediate).

TIP #5 When your child is calm, use “What?” questions

Use “What?” questions to explore possible ways forward.: “What needs to happen now? ” “What can I do to support you?” “What else could help?”

(Not “Why?” questions – which  tend to lead to blaming or excuse making).

Explore the options together and support your child to recognise the factors within her control, because these are the only things she can change.

“Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”  Zig Ziglar

If you found this article helpful you will probably also enjoy reading:

How to Support Your Child If They Are Having Difficulty At School which gives the core principles of building TRUST in our parent-child relationship.

If you are facing a challenging situation concerning your child,  why not work with me as your Parenting Coach. I can help you tune in to your child so you are in a grounded space to support your child to create collaborative solutions.

How to support your upset child

I’d love to hear your experiences about how to calm your upset child.

What has helped you to support your child when they are upset?

What is your greatest challenge in supporting your child through a difficult experience?

Your answers help me to create the posts you’d love to read.

Last edited March 07th 2019

What I wish I'd known when my kids were youngImagine – significantly lowering the stress level in your home, and racheting up the Happiness factor.
When things aren’t going smoothly that can seem like an impossible dream. Here’s my own story of how my vision of parenting fell apart and what happened next.

It took a near melt-down in my relationship with my then-teenage son for me to realize that being a ‘good parent’ wasn’t working. I was a qualified, experienced teacher. I thought I knew how to handle kids but my relationship with my then-teenage son was as scratchy as wire-wool on sunburnt skin. I kept trying to make him ‘be good’ but the more I insisted, the more he resisted.
I thought my parenting job was to change him, but he was a ‘stubborn child’.
But crisis forced me to think differently and do differently.
His challenging behaviour was clearly telling me my parenting style wasn’t working.
I began to realise – slowly! – that the only person I could change was myself!
But I felt overwhelmed.
How could I be anything other than what I was?
How could I do the work of being the parent my child needed to be (instead of the parent who tried to control)?
It seemed an impossible task.

Let me tell you my ‘AHA’ moment.
At that time (this is quite a few years ago!) they had discovered the wreck of the Titanic. I was listening to a radio interview where they said that if the Titanic had changed her course, just two or three degrees when she first hit chilly waters, she would have sailed safely into harbour.
Two or three degrees!
That would have felt like nothing on such a huge ship – but it would have made all the difference.
The lights went on for me.
I was doing a pretty good job as a parent. I just needed to make that 2 or 3 degree shift that would sail us back to warm waters.

It took me time. It took all of us patience. It wasn’t always easy. But we got there.
I didn’t know the term ‘Mindful Parent’ then, but I was taking the first steps on that journey.

The good news is that, to be the parent you’d love to be, it doesn’t take a 180 degree turn-around.
It’s the small shifts in the everyday interactions that are key.
And I’d love to share with you the key insights and practical tools I’ve discovered. The 2 or 3 degrees that can make all the difference in your relationships.

Why not grab a mug of coffee and take twelve minutes to watch this little video.

It’s a section from my ‘BEHAVE’  Online Parenting Course. I wish I’d known this when my kids were young.

My family experienced a lot of frustration and heartache while I slowly realised that trying to get my kid to behave wasn’t working. I’d love to save you the tears and the frustration that it cost me – not to mention any yelling, grumbling or nagging!

What I wish I'd known when my kids were young My AHA moment was many years ago. I’ve got a great relationship with my son, who now has children of his own – and I’ve made it my life’s work to discover what’s needed to create happier homes.  My crisis became my opportunity.

It took me years to figure out what it TAKES to create a happy family.

That’s why I developed the ‘BEHAVE’ Online Parenting Course to give you the key insights and the practical tools I’ve discovered to create a more enjoyable and fulfilling family life, without having to endure the long and often painful journey I experienced. If I’d learnt these core principles when my kids were young, family life would have been so much easier, and happier, for us all.

I’m not saying you’ll have a ‘perfect’ family – life isn’t perfect, but it’s meant to be fun.

I’d love to hear YOUR questions and comments: what’s the parenting challenge you’re facing?

 

Last edited August 20th 2016

Parenting expert, Val Mullally ON AIR 13:50 pm today (18 April) with Deirdre Walsh on Talkabout, Radio Kerry, 96-98FM. She’ll be responding to parenting concerns, about how to respond to teen’s challenging behaviour.  

Last edited April 18th 2016

“How to Respond to Challenging Behaviour”

Following on from the success of  earlier workshop,  Dublin City Childcare Committee are delighted to again invite you to share an evening with Parenting Expert and Author Val Mullally.

Parenting Workshop  :

Tuesday, 22nd of March, 2016

6.30 – 9.00 p.m.

Aishling Hotel, Parkgate St, Dublin 8

€10 per person (payable to Dublin City Childcare Committee)

Last edited March 21st 2016

You can get Val Mullally’s new Parenting book, ‘Behave – What To Do When Your Child Won’t’ which gives key insights and practical tips into Mindful Discipline on Amazon now! It’s available both on AmazonUK and  on Amazon.com ! We’re delighted that every review so far has given it FIVE STARS (and great comments!)

 

 

Last edited January 31st 2016

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

‘I hate you!’

“I can’t believe she said that to me,” exclaimed Jane. “Her little face was bright red.  And she was screaming ‘I hate you!’ ‘I hate you!’”

Mary smiled wryly. “I’ve had those outbursts too. When did our little darlings morph into monsters!”

Others nodded.

Jane could sense that the other parents knew what this experience was like.

One of the first things that they had discovered in the Parenting programme was that this was a safe space to share their concerns about the day-to-day issues that arise in their homes.

‘So what do we already know that could be helpful when your children turn their anger on you with words like this?’ the facilitator asked.

Within a few minutes the mood of the group lightened as they recognised that they had already gained helpful insights.

“I guess I’d need to climb off the ‘Oh no, she hates me’ bandwagon, ” said Jim. “It’s easy to think that my child doesn’t love me when I see that angry face.”

“Yes,” added another parent.  “Rather recognise that she’s saying, ‘I hate a particular behaviour of yours.”

In a few minutes the group had made several suggestions.

1)   Strong emotions are contagious, so focus on your breathing so that you don’t ‘hook in’.  Don’t let the anger stick.

“Don’t be like Velcro,’ chuckled Don,  “Be like Teflon; let your child’s anger roll off you!”

They remembered the core neuroscience and emotional intelligence insights the facilitator had discussed. This prompted further ideas:

2)   Recognise that when he’s this angry the ‘thinking part’ of his brain is not engaged.

3)    It’s no good trying to reason with him at this point; that can only come later once his anger subsides.

4)   Don’t try to persuade her that she doesn’t hate you. She wants to let you know that something isn’t okay for her right now.

5)   Recognise that anger is always a signal ‘I need change.’ Ask yourself what is the change your child is asking for.

The facilitator added a few other thoughts to the discussion:

6)   Help your child to NAME, CLAIM and TAME his emotion. In other words, see the emotion that is under the attacking words and respond to that: ‘You’ re very angry.’  When he has a NAME for his inner experience he can CLAIM it; recognise that that is what he is experiencing.  And when he can CLAIM it he can TAME it – bring it back under control.

7)   Also recognise that there are other emotions underneath blanket of her anger  – probably fear or disappointment.  It’s easier to connect with your child when you can picture what probably lies under the anger.

Jane smiled. When she had signed up for the Parenting programme she hadn’t realized how much the new learning would positively affect their everyday life in the home. She knew that by the end of this session she’s be going home with a different outlook and a more helpful way of responding next time her child had a meltdown.

Don’t miss out on YOUR CHANCE to discover the Koemba Parenting programme, starting this month in Kilkenny and in Cork:

Helping families to:

– think more clearly

 connect more compassionately

 behave more response-ably

 live more joyfully

Please note:  This story is fictional and does not record an actual event. 

8 sessions commencing:

Douglas, Cork Thurs 26 Sept 2013

Thursday evenings 7.30 – 10 pm

Kilkenny Wed 25 Sept 2013

Wednesday mornings 10am – 12.30

Investment fee: €187

Early Bird: €169 (pay by Mon 23 Sept)

 For more detail  email val@koemba.com or telephone Val 087 7609355

 For details CLICK HERE.

 

 

 

 

Last edited September 17th 2013

 

Perhaps you have one of those ‘school angel – house devil’ children; good as gold when out with others but driving you mad at home? Or perhaps your child’s behaviour is driving everyone mad. Maybe it’s some particular behaviour that you wish you could do something about – get them to listen, get them to be more confident, stop whining, stop fighting, stop bullying, stand up for themselves, do their homework. 
I don’t think that there’s a parent who doesn’t puzzle about what to do when it comes to dealing with challenging behaviour, at least some of the time.

Over the next few days I’m going to share three practical insights about challenges parents face and give you some helpful tips to help you create less stress and more fun in your home. I’m asking your to read this and then take time to REFLECT on what this might mean to your family – and especially to you as parent. It’s easy to read something, think ‘yes, ‘yes’ and then rush on to the next item in your agenda. But the three thoughts I’m going to share with you in these articles over the next few days could move you to a whole different and more enjoyable path of parenting. What it will take is time to let them soak into your mind?

So here’s the wildly challenging thought for today:
Getting your child to be ‘good’ might be bad for your child.

Yes, of course you’d like a ‘good’ child. ‘Good’ would be so much easier.

A child who always does what they are told. Who wouldn’t want a ‘good’ child!

Is ‘good’ what really matters?

But your focus on what you need now you might be overlooking the long-term cost of  ‘good’. That cost may be far too high. That cost might mean low self esteem, it might mean becoming a ‘yes’ person to whatever others demand, which will get in the way of your child’s fulfilment  and happiness in life. You want a child who does what he is told, right? But if that’s what you instil then don’t be surprised if this becomes the teen who does whatever anyone else asks: stealing, drugs, sex. Your ‘good’ child is likely to become a vulnerable target for others’ selfish desires. Because ‘good ‘ is about your child fitting in with your agenda, ignoring their own needs as human beings.
And who decides what is ‘good’?
What parent doesn’t wait for the school report, hoping to read the words ‘excellent pupil’, ‘well behaved’  – anxious about the teacher’s comment. And it makes sense that teachers tend to praise children who are compliant. In most school situations teachers are overburdened with too large classes, administrative demands, a syllabus to complete and the emphasis on examination marks. Our school system is set up to encourage ‘good’, also known as ‘compliant’. But the compliant child is not going to be the mover and the shaker that is what the world needs now. Do you really want a ‘good’ child or do you want to support your child to grow into the full potential of the unique, wonderful, awesome human being that he or she already is? The children who grow up to really make a difference in the world are very often the ones who didn’t ‘cut it’ at school.

Think of Einstein, Steve Jobs, Oprah, Richard Branson. I wonder if there’s a school report lying around some dusty attic for any one of those characters! I bet that would make interesting reading, and I doubt you would find the word ‘good’ on their school reports.
You’d be more likely to spot phrases like ‘daydreamer’, ‘doesn’t listen’, ”won’t settle in class’. Children in touch with themselves and with life don’t put their focus of fulfilling someone else’s agenda. They intuitively know they must follow their own inner calling.

So what are the words that are maybe used to describe your child that cause you concern?

‘Wilful or stubborn’ – They know what they want.

‘Daydreamer’ or ‘easily distracted’ – Their minds are on other more exciting things.  ‘Imagination is everything. It is a preview of life’s coming attractions.’ Albert Einstein knew how to use his imagination. That’s how he discovered such amazing things.

‘Needs to listen’ – maybe your child listens to his or her own inner rhythm.

So if you are dreading receiving one of those school reports, maybe it’s time to think again.
Take time to think about:
What am I actually focused on when I want my child to be ‘good’?
What do I really want, when I think long term?
In what ways could my child’s challenging behaviour actually be a positive?
What do I need as Parent (or support person to the child) to help this child to develop to his or her full potential?

Let’s move beyond ‘good’ to ‘happy’, ‘curious’, ‘interested’, ‘imaginative’ , ‘tenacious’ and all of the other crazily wonderful qualities that make your child a unique person who lives fully.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating wild, out of control behaviour. Rather I’m saying that as parents and people working with children we need to think further than ‘good’. But rather than striving for compliant behaviour we need to know how to create environments that encourage cooperative behaviour. That’s what the Koemba approach is all about. Watch out for my next blog in a couple of days, because I’ll be chatting about how if you  focus on keeping your child ‘safe’ it may not actually nurture your child’s health and well-being.

Last edited April 04th 2013