Many parents share stories of embarrassment over their child’s public behavior, hoping for a solution that will help their little ones effectively learn to mind their manners. The following was shared recently by the mother of a 5-year-old.
“My daughter stormed up to me in the middle of a conversation at a neighborhood party and started hitting me and yelling for my attention! At first I remained calm, knelt down to her and said, ‘honey, I’m talking here. You have to be nice to mommy.’ To which she began screaming louder and causing more of a scene! I just stood there and took the beating from her until eventually I had to abandon my conversation just so she would calm down. I helped her to some snacks and punch in the corner of the room until she calmed down, but then she demanded I stay by her side the rest of the party. I didn’t want her to act out again or for the other guests to think her behavior was a reflection of my parenting so I made excuses like, ‘oh she’s just tired and needs extra attention right now.’ But the truth is, this sort of thing happens all the time and I don’t have time for friends because her behavior is terrible when we leave the house!”
If you are struggling with a child who has bad public behavior you may be interested to learn three ways to disrupt the emotional cycle. We’re going to ground these in science because we know you want a solution that works and because our Mad2Glad Blueprint has firm roots in brain-based parenting techniques.
Frequent occurrences of high intensity emotions – in public or private – can be likened to an addiction cycle that happens in the brain. The three stages, which we’ve modified to be family-friendly, are:
1) The Sign
2) The Explosion
3) The Regret
Many parents see their child’s disruptive behavior as an intentional, calculated attempt of manipulation to get their way (e.g. more attention, a treat). However, we’ve found the emotional under-pinning tends to be more along the lines of getting a psychological need “met” though the means are unsophisticated and ultimately ineffective.
To correct bad behavior and help your child learn to mind her manners you need to break the addictive emotional cycle, which can occur at any of the three stages.
1) “Signs” of upcoming explosions are typically evident if you don your “Behavior Detective” hat and watch how your child acts in public. Look for small signs of social discomfort she is demonstrating, such as irritability, whining, clinging, and setting self apart from other children and soothe her psychological need before she goes off.
Try this: See her good qualities and comment on them aloud. For example, “I saw you kicking ball with the other kids. I’m proud of you for doing a great job playing while I’m talking.”
2) Disrupt the explosion rather than absorbing the negative behavior or fueling the fire.
Try this: Calmly excuse yourselves from the room and go take a break, together. Remain calm to diffuse her stress chemistry, and acknowledge her underlying emotion. For example, “it looks like you’re upset.”
3) Kids often regret their bad behavior after-the-fact and can be heard confessing, “I’m just a bad girl.”
Try this: Outside the moment of infraction help your child through her regret by recalling both sides of the interaction, labeling how each of you felt, and ask for a solution on how to do it differently next time. Rehearse the new solution so her brain creates a new map (aka – neural pathway) for improved behavior next time you’re in public. For example, ”I was talking and you interrupted, yelling my name and hitting me so we had to leave and take a break. I’m not happy over how that went and can tell you’re not happy either. How can we do that differently next time?”
Help your child break the addictive cycle of high intensity emotions so she develops a positive self-identity as she learns to integrate her big feelings and do you feel empowered as a parent. You’ll be glad you did this now as you watch her develop skills that contribute to her self-awareness, ability to make friends, and overall happiness.
We’re curious, what repeated behavior cycle would you like to disrupt?
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