Helping Kids Deal with Feelings

Parents sometimes get so caught up in the physical demands of childrearing (getting kids ready for school, providing meals, making sure homework is done, taking them to lessons, getting them into bath and bed), that they can easily forget that there is a whole other side of parenting that is equally important and that must be attended to: the child’s inner world – the world of feelings. Helping children identify and manage their emotions is a critical task for any parent. So much of a child’s behavior is driven by emotions; frustrated children may become aggressive, frightened children may refuse to cooperate at bedtime, socially anxious children may isolate themselves, and so forth. Indeed, young children are prone to react emotionally to every situation rather than think about what they ought to do. Kids of every age are prone to experience periods of overwhelm or insecurity, moodiness or anxiety. Parents can play a major role in helping kids to negotiate the world of upsetting emotions.

How can parents help children deal with their feelings? Consider the following:

Be Open about Your Own Emotions
Kids feel free to explore and express their emotions only to the extent that they feel their family is open to it. So teach by example. If you feel sad, then express to the family that you are sad: “The ending to that movie was so sad that it made me cry!” If you are angry, assertively (that is, politely but firmly) express that you are angry: “I am really upset that you didn’t listen to me!” When you are feeling anxious, say so: “I’m worried about Grandpa. He fell twice last week.”  When children see that their parents are comfortable having and speaking about emotions, they will learn that feelings are just a normal part of the human experience. Parents who tell children to “stop crying” or “there’s nothing to be afraid of” accidentally encourage kids to bottle up their emotions.

Welcome Your Child’s Feelings
Differentiate between behaviors and feelings. You won’t be able to accept all of your child’s behaviors, but you can certainly accept all of his feelings. Let’s say that your youngster is mad at his brother for breaking the tower he was building. The anger is understandable and acceptable. However, punching the brother is completely unacceptable. Anger is a feeling – always acceptable. Punching is a behavior – and behaviors may or may not be acceptable. Is your child whining because he doesn’t like the meal you prepared? Whining is a behavior and one that happens to be unacceptable. Not liking dinner (feeling disappointed or frustrated) is a feeling and is acceptable. Your response can welcome the feeling while correcting the behavior. For instance, “I’m sorry you don’t like tonight’s dinner. I know that you’re disappointed and frustrated – you wanted something else. It is not O.K. to whine like that. Just tell me how you feel in words and I’ll try to help you out.” No matter what your child is feeling, accept the feeling without criticism or correction. This is easy to say but really hard to do. Sometimes your child feels things that you might find frightening. For instance, your child might say things like, “No one likes me” or “I’m so ugly” or “I don’t want to finish my degree. It’s just too hard” Your job in all of these cases is to accept the feelings BEFORE you try to educate the child. “No one likes you? That’s a sad feeling!” “You feel ugly? That’s really hard! “You don’t want to finish your degree? You sound very discouraged.” As the child responds, continue naming feelings as long as possible. Don’t jump in to correct the youngster because that will stop him from trying to share feelings with you in the future. When your kids have angry feelings, teach them the right way to express those feelings. How feelings are expressed is a behavior. Yelling, for example is a behavior, as is talking in a normal tone of voice. Teach kids that yelling, name calling, swearing, throwing, kicking and so on are all unacceptable ways to express the feeling of anger. On the other hand, saying “I’m angry” or “I’m really upset” or “I am so frustrated” are all valid ways to verbally express anger. Teach them to name their feeling and ask for what they want. It is normal for both parents and children to feel frustrated. You can certainly name, accept and validate your child’s upset and frustration. You cannot, however, accept his abusive behavior.

Use Pictures to Help Your Child Identify Feelings
When young children have difficulty articulating what they are going through, it’s best to turn to non-verbal aids. One such aid is a set of pictures depicting the different kinds of emotions. Instead of asking children to tell you how they feel, encourage kids to point at the card that illustrates the emotion they are going through. Parents can also use the cards as a prompt when trying to figure out what their child is feeling. Some parents put a “feeling wheel” on the refrigerator where a child can easily see it and use it to describe what he is experiencing.

Make it a Habit to Ask Children How They Feel
Very few parents take the effort to deliberately help their kids to identify what they are feeling at a given point in time. But there are many occasions when a focus on feelings can help increase a child’s emotional intelligence. Occasions when kids are happy, such as when a playmate comes over, can be an opportunity to teach kids about positive emotions. It looked like you guys were having a blast? Was it fun having Steve over?” Occasions that are sad, such as the death of a pet, can be opportunities to instruct about negative emotions. “I can’t believe that Fluffy died! I feel so sad. How about you? How are you doing?” By inviting open discussion of feelings you make it easy for your children to access their own and others emotions and become emotionally intelligent.

Child is Aggressive

Parents are often perplexed by their aggressive child. They may not know why the child behaves as he does and they may also not know how to help change that behavior.

If your child is aggressive  – on occasion, sometimes or frequently – consider the following tips:

There are “Aggressive” Genes
Those children who are frequently aggressive may have inherited “aggressive” genes – or at least, the kind of genes that trigger aggressive responses. For instance, some kids have impulsivity – an inherited trait that leads to acting quickly and without considering the consequences of the action. Impulsive kids may grab toys from others, hit or push others who bother them, destroy property in anger and so on. They do it all without thinking of what’s going to happen next. Another inherited tendency is a strong-willed nature. Some kids are easy-going – they’re flexible and difficult to ruffle. But the strong-willed bunch may need things to go their way – or else. This stubborn nature can lead youngsters to feel threatened when things don’t happen the way they want them to and this sense of threat is associated with the fight-or-flight reaction in the body and the “fight” part of the chemical reaction often leads to aggressive behaviors. For instance, a child may want a book that his brother is holding in his hands. He asks for it repeatedly and the brother won’t give it. Because this one has a hard time backing down, giving up, walking away and finding something else to do – because he HAS to have what he WANTS – the fight-or-flight chemistry gets released and he lunges at his brother, shoving him down and grabbing the book that he wants. A “hot temper” is also an inherited trait. Some kids have virtually no temper while others are quickly and/or intensely triggered. The latter bunch may have trouble controlling those feelings and often end up behaving in more aggressive ways.

Adults who are aggressive have responded well to certain psychotropic medications like SSRI’s. This class of medicine not only relieves depression and anxiety, but it also seems to help tame the aggressive tendency.  A truly aggressive child – one who is being expelled from school after school because of an inability to control himself – should be evaluated for medical treatment. However, kids who are able to function well can also benefit from help for inherited aggressive tendencies. In this latter case, many kids will respond very well to the harmless naturopathic preparation called Bach Flower Remedies. In this group of 38 water-based remedies, quite a few are appropriate for taming aggression including Vine (for violent aggression, strong will), Impatiens (for high strung aggressive behavior), Holly (for aggression that occurs due to feeling insulted or mistreated) and Cherry Plum (for aggression that involves complete loss of control). Consult a Bach Flower Practitioner to prepare an individually tailored mixture of remedies for your youngster or read more about the remedies and make them yourself. Your child’s aggression will likely wane over time, as he or she takes the remedies. The remedies never subdue a person or change their character – they leave all the strong points in place! They simply help clear out troubled feelings.

Monkey See Monkey Do
Children who witness or experience aggression are much more likely to copy it. If you are currently using anger as a parenting tool, you need to be aware that it definitely increases aggressive behavior in kids. Read “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” in order to learn a variety of alternative non-angry strategies for getting kids to listen. It’s important that you don’t yell, physically punish or otherwise demonstrate aggressive behaviors. Moreover, your behavior toward your parenting partner (spouse, ex-spouse, etc.) needs to be completely unaggressive as well. Even road rage should be avoided! Children won’t copy you exactly – they’ll copy the general style. If you use aggression in your life, chances are very good that your kids will too.

Treat Aggressive Behavior Non-Aggressively
You need to help your child stop his aggressive behavior. When he is out of control, make sure you are very much IN control. Keep your voice quiet. Speak slowly. Don’t say much. Let the child know that there will be a consequence for his behavior, using the structure of the 2X-Rule outlined in “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice.”  Do not ignore aggressive behavior. Everyone in your house is entitled to live in a safe, respectful environment, including yourself and your other children. Make this clear to the aggressive child. Aggression must always be disciplined in the home – just as it is disciplined in the society at large. No one is allowed to destroy property or hurt others without facing legal consequences. Similarly, there needs to be a system in place in the home where unacceptable behavior is consequenced. “The Relationship Rule” (see “Raise Your Kids..”) teaches children how to express their upset in respectful ways. Follow the five steps of teaching this rule to your whole family.  Look for signs of progress – less aggression,  better communication and self-control.

If normal, calm discipline and careful positive reinforcement for desirable, non-violent behavior, does not stop your child’s aggressive behavior, seek professional guidance. A mental health practitioner, family counselor or parent educator can offer you a variety of tools to encourage non-aggressive behavior and discourage aggressive behavior in your child. If you employ these strategies without success, take your child to a mental health practitioner for assessment and treatment

Child is Destructive

Children can be destructive for several reasons. Some are “innocently” destructive due to excess energy and poor judgment. Kids with ADHD, viagra dosage for instance, can play too wildly at times, accidentally causing damage to property through impulsive behavior. Other kids are destructive on purpose, acting out their anger, hurt or frustration. This sometimes occurs because of their inborn temperament, sometimes because of watching parents or older siblings behave similarly and sometimes a combination of both nature and nurture. Some kids are destructive only at home whereas others are destructive elsewhere as well. In all cases, parents need to know how to stop their child’s destructive actions.

If your child is destructive at times, consider the following tips:

Never Lose Control
The destructive child is out-of-control and needs to see a model of excellent self-control. No matter how upset you are with your child’s destructive behavior, control your own behavior! Even if your youngster broke your favorite, irreplaceable camera, heirloom or something similar, restrain yourself: no yelling, no touching the child, no name-calling, no verbal abuse of any kind. Instead, let the child know that you need to THINK about what you’re going to do about his behavior, and then leave the scene of the crime to do just that. If you lose control in front of your child, how can you expect him to behave differently?

Teach Your Child the Importance of Respecting Property
Let your child know that he can’t destroy property just because he’s upset. Explain to him the value (monetary or sentimental) of things and the consequences his actions have not only on himself in terms of getting punished, but on those whose property he destroys. Ask him how he would feel if someone broke or damaged his favorite toy or his bike. Let him know that when he destroys someone’s property, he’s making them feel the same way. The child may simply not fully understand the consequences his actions have.

Use the 2X-Rule
If your child continues to be destructive, warn him or her that acting in this way will result in a negative consequence in the future. You can say “From now on whenever you are destructive, you will lose “screens for that day.” or something along those lines. If the destruction is very serious (i.e. damaging a car or a house or causing expensive or severe damage to property), use “jail level” consequences (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for a detailed explanation of discipline strategies, including “ticket” and “jail-level” negative consequences). “Jail level” consequences are punishments that your child would REALLY dislike. The “ticket-level” consequence of losing screens for a day can be annoying or slightly upsetting to children, but most will recover quickly. The “jail-level” consequence of losing screens for a week (or longer for an older child) however, might be something that the child really can’t bear. All children have different feelings about what is or isn’t important to them though. You should pick both regular, “ticket-level” consequences and very serious “jail-level” consequences according to your own child’s value system. If losing a story at bedtime is upsetting enough, that can be a consequence for playing with balls in the living room after being told not to do so. For another child, losing dessert will be the language he understands best. For a child who has painted your walls with magic marker, you might warn that future occurrences of this very destructive behavior will cost the child significant portions of his allowance or the privilege of riding his new bike. See Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for an extended list of negative consequences.

Teach Anger-Management strategies
If your child’s destructive behavior occurs mostly when he’s angry, teach him alternative ways of handling this strong emotion. There are many techniques and strategies to help your child manage his anger and many internet resources and books on this subject. Some tips that you may find helpful include:

  • Teach your child to think about the situation and it’s consequences before he acts.
  • Teach breathing techniques to your child. These can help calm your child down in moments of anger. One simple technique your child can use is to think the word “in” while breathing in and think the word “out” while breathing out. Have him practice nightly at bedtime in order for this technique to be truly available and calming in a moment of upset.
  • Teach him how to communicate his feelings in the right way when he is angry.
  • Teach him how to be able to “let go” after upset has occurred.
  • Anger and tantrums can often come about after a build up of stress, so teach your child stress reduction methods as well.

Use the CLeaR Method
In the CLeaR method, a parent gives the child a comment on what he is doing correctly, a label on how he is acting, and a reward to reinforce positive behavior. If your child is often reckless and careless while playing but is at the moment playing quite appropriately, give him a comment – “I see that you’re being careful with your toys today.” a label -“That’s very mature of you.” followed by a reward -“You can play outside for longer today since you’re being so careful.” when he plays carefully.

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. If your child exhibits violent rage that leads to destruction of property, the flower remedy Vine may help him. For loss of control, the flower remedy Cherry Plum is used. If your child has meltdowns when provoked, you can try the remedy Impatiens. You can mix several remedies together in one treatment bottle. To do so, you fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the negative behavior disappears. Start treatment again, if the behavior returns. Eventually, the behavior should diminish completely.

Seek Professional Help
If your child continues to exhibit destructive behavior despite all the interventions you employ, it is best to arrange for professional assessment and treatment. It is possible that you need a “tighter” educational approach and it is also possible that your child him or herself, will benefit from therapeutic intervention. Ask your doctor for a referral to a pediatric mental health professional.

Strategies for Dealing with Misbehavior

All kids misbehave from time to time. Parents need to know how to handle misbehavior WITHOUT harming their child. Frequent anger, excessive criticism, over-punishment and other harsh interventions are strategies that are likely to cause more misbehavior rather than less. Moreover, these strategies also cause various emotional difficulties in children and can, when intense enough, harm the parent-child relationship. Fortunately, parents can learn a set of tools that will help them correct their kids in positive ways. With these tolls, parents will find themselves taking firm but quiet control, finding ways to respectfully teach their kids right from wrong.

If your child ever misbehaves, consider the following tips:

Reasons for Misbehavior
Your child may misbehave for all kinds of reasons. Some misbehavior is actually accidental – like when a child just isn’t paying attention (i.e. when he runs around the house and breaks something). Or, he might be experimenting and testing the limits of what he can get away with. Maybe he seeks the intense attention his parents give to his negative behavior. Or maybe there’s a physiological reason for the misbehavior such as fatigue, hunger or illness – or a biologically based mental health condition like ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, etc. Your child (usually!) isn’t an evil person who consciously intends to make your life hard. There’s generally a reason for his or her misbehavior.

Attend to and Reinforce Desirable Behaviors
The CLeaR method is one super-charged way that you can reinforce positive behavior; it is described in full in Sarah Chana Radcliffe’s book, Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice. Use of the CLeaR Method involves 3 steps: comment, label and (sometimes) reward. An example using the CLeaR Method would be this scenario of a child who has a bad habit of climbing on counters to help himself to cookies. One day, the child remembers to ASK for a cookie, to which the parent responds“You asked me for a cookie instead of trying to climb on the counter.” (Comment), “That’s very mature of you!” (Label), “Yes, go ahead and take a cookie.” (Reward). The CLeaR Method requires forethought and actual planning, but it is truly effective when used consistently and correctly. With this method, your child learns to associate appropriate behavior with positive feelings, causing him to become more likely to do the “right” thing in the future.

Reward charts can also be used to encourage desirable behaviors. These are more fun and more successful than using tools like criticism, correction and punishment to address the negative behavior. For instance, instead of yelling at a child for leaving his shoes in the hallway, you can put up a star chart in front of the shoe cupboard and ask the child to give himself a star whenever he puts his shoes away properly. When he accumulates a certain number of stars, he gets a small prize.

Even praise, smiles and other simple signs of pleasure applied to DESIRABLE behaviors are preferable to negative feedback for undesirable behaviors. Nonetheless, positive strategies alone do not always eradicate misbehavior. See below for how to use discipline constructively when necessary.

Follow the 80-20 Rule (90-10 for teens)
In the 80-20 rule, 80% of communications between parent and child must be positive, while only 20% can be negative. Negative communications include criticism of any kind, behavior tips, and rebuke. For teens the ratio is 90%-10% as teens become less tolerant of criticism. Too much negative interaction with your child can lead to rebelliousness and damage the parent-child relationship. The 80-20 rule can dramatically decrease misbehavior while it fosters cooperation. Learn more about The 80-20 Rule in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice.

Get in the Habit of using Emotional Coaching
Emotional coaching can be a great tool to help reduce misbehavior. It involves naming a child’s feelings. When your child misbehaves you can begin your intervention by acknowledging the feelings prompting his behavior (i.e. “I know it’s fun to throw rocks.” or “I know you want to have a cookie right now.”). Then, offer your correction (i.e. “Throwing rocks is dangerous.” or “You can’t take cookies without asking permission.”) Make sure not to join the acknowledgment of the behavior with the reason why he can’t do it with the word “but” (i.e. “I know it’s fun to throw rocks but it’s dangerous.”). Using the word “but” is akin to saying, “I know you like this but I don’t care.” so try to avoid using it here. Emotional coaching makes the child feel understood and accepted, even when his behavior is unacceptable. As a result, the child is more likely to want to cooperate with the parents’ requests. This method can greatly reduce misbehavior and encourages compliance.

Avoid Bribes and use Grandma’s Rule
Instead of saying, “If you clean up your toys, you’ll get a treat” (which is a bribe), try saying, “After you’ve cleaned up your toys, you can have a piece of cake” (which is the structure used in Grandma’s Rule). The word “if” denotes the option of doing or not doing something, when in fact you don’t want to give your child that option. The words “after,” “as soon as,” or “when” indicate that the behavior will be accomplished – it’s only a matter of when. The reward will be forthcoming WHEN the behavior is done, not “if” it is done!

Use the 2X-Rule When You Need to Discipline
Sometimes it is necessary to use discipline to reduce negative behavior. The 2X Rule (as described in the book Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice) is a good rule to follow. When your child misbehaves (i.e. hits his sister) tell him that he should refrain from the improper behavior, tell him why he should refrain and tell him what he should do instead of that behavior. That is called Step One. If the child does the misbehavior again, you’ll be on Step Two of the 2X-Rule. Here, you’ll repeat Step One and then warn him that if repeats that behavior again he will receive a negative consequence. You could say something like, “The next time you hit your sister, you will lose your computer privileges for the rest of the day.” Children are more likely to think about what they’re doing before they do it when faced with a consequence. Make sure to follow up with whatever consequence you promised (be reasonable) so that your child takes you seriously. If the misbehavior happens routinely, use the rule version of the 2X-Rule, which, on Step Two, sounds more like this: “From now on, whenever you hurt your sister, such and such consequence will occur.”

Experiment with Different Approaches
There is no one-size-fits-all approaches to parenting. What works with one child in the family may just not work with another. Therefore, read a few books, join a few forums, take a few parenting classes! You may learn a new strategy that really helps THIS child improve his or her behavior.

Try Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease improve your child’s behavior in addition to other things. Some flower remedies that can help a child who often misbehaves include Holly, Vine and Chestnut Bud. Vine is for the child who wants to do what he wants to do, no matter what you want him to do (strong-willed). Chestnut Bud is the remedy for the child that simply doesn’t learn from his mistakes and punishments, and repeats bad behavior over and over again. Holly is used for children who are jealous (i.e. jealous of a brother’s toy) and misbehave as a result. You can mix remedies together and take them at the same time. To do so, you fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle with water (a mixing bottle is an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold in health food stores along with Bach Flower Remedies). Next, add two drops of each remedy that you want to use. Finally, add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use. Give your child 4 drops of the mixture in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, etc.) four times a day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue this treatment until the behavior improves. Start treatment again, if the behavior degrades. Eventually, the behavior will improve completely.

Consider Professional Help
If your misbehavior is part of a larger picture of negativity or defiance, and your interventions have not helped sufficiently, consider seeking out the help or assessment of a professional mental health practitioner.

How to Deal with an Angry Spouse

We’re human and we sometimes get mad. Anger is a feeling. It is not a behavior. Behaviors are what people do, find actions that they take. When you are mad, what do you do? Do you pout? Do you shout? Do you grumble and mumble? Do you withdraw or do you attack? We all have our ways.

Expressed anger often leads to behaviors that are destructive on every level: personally, interpersonally and spiritually. Working on ourselves to reduce the amount of time we are triggered into an angry emotional state can be helpful; obviously, the less we feel anger, the less we’ll have to control our behavior. Sometimes this work can consist of self-reflection, personal development through classes or counselling or even reading books on anger management. Sometimes relaxation and stress-management counseling will help lower our anger thermostats. Sometimes psychotherapy or medication is needed in order not to be living too close to the boiling point. However, whether or not we manage to reduce our angry feelings, it is ESSENTIAL that we learn to eliminate our angry behaviors.

The Angry Spouse
Some people marry a person who turns out to have a problem with anger. Sometimes the anger is evident even in the dating period, but it is misinterpreted as being tolerable or normal. For instance, people who grow up with angry parents don’t always recognize anger as a toxic trait in a spouse-to-be. In fact, it seems rather familiar to them in a way that makes them feel like they’re at home. This is one of the great costs of angry parenting—it causes children to be at significant risk for being comfortable with angry people and therefore choosing such a person to be a spouse. Unfortunately, this can lead to a lifetime of marital pain or to the pain of divorce.

Sometimes the anger is not noticeable during the dating period, but rather is well hidden. It comes out only after the wedding, sometimes within weeks and sometimes within months. Unfortunately, marital partners do not always understand the implications of an angry outburst on the part of their spouse. Often, they think it is a freak accident, something out of character that has occurred once or twice and will never occur again. Usually, they can’t foresee what this anger will look like a couple of years down the line or what it’s effects will be on the children yet to be born.

However, there is a large body of research that informs us as to the progression and effects of anger in family life. According to the literature, angry behaviors often tend to increase over time. They don’t tend to just disappear on their own. Spouses who put up with angry behavior by remaining silent or by voicing disapproval without mentioning any real consequences, send a message loud and clear: “Go ahead and be aggressive. I’ll tolerate it.” The result is that angry behavior not only persists — it can sometimes actually worsen over time. This is true of both angry men and angry women; both genders can be guilty of escalating abusive behavior. Yelling becomes swearing. Swearing becomes stamping and slamming. Stamping and slamming becomes throwing things, followed by punching and kicking holes in the walls. Next comes assault. So many people have followed this well-worn path that it is now totally predictable by law enforcement agencies, family service agencies and mental health professionals. Spouses who don’t stop small signs of aggression when they first appear will have a much larger symptoms of violence to address in the end. Unfortunately, by that time, there may be children around who then must endure the trauma of living with aggression in the marriage. In addition, women should know that pregnancy itself is a condition that is statistically linked to a higher incidence of aggressive behavior in male partners. Therefore, the time to put a halt to any inappropriate expression of anger is long before the first pregnancy. Men need to understand that female aggression, while not always as dangerous as male aggression, can indeed lead to physical injury (sometimes serious injury or even death) and always leads to psychological injury; it hurts deeply to be so disrespected and so badly treated by someone who is supposed to be your life partner and best friend. Children are equally scarred by witnessing male or female physical and/or verbal violence.

Ending Inappropriate Expression of Anger
How does one stop one’s spouse from expressing anger inappropriately? Apply the 2X-Rule: on the very first occasion of disrespectful treatment, address the issue clearly using Step One. (If physical violence of any kind has occurred, skip this first step and go straight to step two below.)  Step one might sound something like this: “I don’t want ugly communications to be part of my marriage and my life. We can do better and if we do better, we’ll protect and nurture our love. If we don’t do better, we might lose one of the most important things we have in our lives: our affection for each other.” The next time disrespect is communicated, repeat the same message as in Step One and add a warning.  Step Two might sound something like: “This has already happened one time too many. If it happens again, I’m going to speak to “so and so” and see if he/she can refer us to a counselor.” “So and so” can be a priest or rabbi, a family doctor or another therapist. It should not be a relative (who will, upon hearing of mistreatment, never forgive your partner long after you have forgiven him or her!). It should not be a friend either (who may be unskilled and end up simply escorting you to divorce court). This step of exposing mistreatment, however, is crucial. As soon as an abusive partner realizes that his or her behavior will be exposed outside the home, healing begins to occur. No one wants outsiders to see such an unattractive picture of them. Always let an angry spouse know that others will know. Do this even if the behavior you are concerned about is verbal disrespect. Stopping such behavior in its tracks protects your marriage and allows love to flourish.

If physical aggression is occurring, make it clear to your partner that you cannot live together in the same house until that behavior is permanently rectified. Ask your doctor for a referral for your spouse to an official anger management program. Consider separating physically until the partner has a graduation certificate and you feel confident that he or she understands that you will not live with this in the marriage. Your partner can control him or herself and will only “lose control” to the extent that you permit it. The only people who truly cannot control the expression of their anger are people with severe mental illness and these people should generally be locked up away from society since they are a danger to everyone. Spouses who are only aggressive at home are very much in control of their behavior. That’s why they only scream, insult, hit or throw things but they never take a weapon and actually use it in a fatal way! They are, in fact, totally in control.

Removing inappropriate expressions of anger in your home is only the first step to building a healthy relationship. Taking classes and counseling can help build good anger management and communication skills that will safeguard love and nurture a wholesome family atmosphere. Although it is best to stop inappropriate anger before it gets a foothold, it is never too late. Healing and growth occurs throughout the lifetime.

Out-of-Control Teens

Some teenagers are model citizens. This article is not about them. This article is about those teens who are acting out – the ones who talk back to their parents, dosage swear at them, act aggressively when upset, have no respect for rules or curfews, do what they want when they want, engage in addictive, destructive, illegal or immoral behavior and otherwise distress their well-meaning parents terribly. It is also about those teens who are “acting in” – those with depression, eating disorders, cutting behaviors and other self-destructive patterns. All of these children frighten, worry and dismay their parents. Why do they behave this way? What can parents do about it?

Out-of-Control Parents
Many out-of-control teens trigger out-of-control behavior in their parents. Because of their intense fear, hurt and helplessness, many parents of out-of-control teens become enraged and display their own version of temper tantrum behavior. In an effort to regain control, some dole out irrational negative consequences like “life-long” loss of privileges or “life-long” grounding. Even if they manage to use more reasonable consequences, many use too many or make them too intense for the crime. The result is a very negative relationship in which the adolescent loses all motivation to please the parent or cooperate in any way. The troubled relationship actually fuels more adolescent pain and more troubled behaviors. The last thing a struggling adolescent needs is an out-of-control parent.

How to Help Troubled Teens
The first step for parents it to maintain total control over THEMSELVES. Parents should let their adolescents know that they are starting a SELF-improvement program: no more yelling, tantrumming, insulting or other disrespectful behaviors. The parent will remove all behaviors from his or her own repetoire that would be unacceptable if the teen engaged in that behavior. For instance, if the parents want the teen to stop yelling, the parent will work on removing yelling from his or her own behavior (the same applies for any other similar behavior such as, unpleasant tone of voice, nasty facial expressions, unkind words, stomping & slamming, etc.). After a month of working on his or her own behavior, the parent can begin to help the teen make similar changes using a similar technique. The teen may be inspired by the model of the parnts. The parents have shown their own willingness to help make things better and they have shown that they can be successful. The teen may be more willing to get with the program when the parents have led the way.

The self-improvement program works like this: the parents promise themselves and their child that each unacceptable parental outburst will be followed by a parental consequence. For instance, when a parent yells, he or she can immediately sit down to write a page of lines to the effect of “I can control myself even if I feel upset.” or “I speak respectfully at all times even when I am upset” and so on. After the first week or two of this consequence, the parent increases his or her lines to two sides (one full page, both sides) and after three or four weeks, to three sides, continuing to make increases until all unacceptable parental behavior stops. If it starts up again at a later date, even months or years later, the parent begins the consequence system again.

Another equally important strategy for parents is to lay the foundation for adolescent change. They can do this by practicing the 90-10 Rule. This rule states that 9 out of 10 parental communications need to feel pleasant to the child. Pleasant feeling communications include things like smiles, compliments, weather reports, gifts, treats, jokes, gentle touch (if wanted), interesting neutral conversation, acknowledgement, good quality listening, naming feelings, having pleasant interactions with other family members within earshot of the teen and so on. One out of 10 communications can be “business-oriented” such as giving instructions, making requests, setting a boundary (using discipline if necessary). When the 90-10 Rule is followed, teenagers automatically become calmer and more cooperative, less rebellious and more interested in pleasing. Their own emotional difficulties settle down a bit. They even cooperate more with discipline when it is required.

More Help for Out-of-Control Teens
Parents can be empathetic toward teens without accepting their abusive behavior. Once parents have brought their own behavior under control, they must insist that their teens work on theirs as well. They will live by the rule “I only give and accept respectful communication” (“I do not give nor do I accept disrespectful communication.”) Using quiet, respectful discipline, the parent can invite the teen to create appropriate consequences for behaving in disrespectful ways.

Troubled teens may really benefit from and appreciate other interventions. Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless treatment that can reduce anger, stress, anxiety, hurt, loneliness, despair, depression and all other painful emotions. Both parents and teens can use this form of treatment to help clear and heal the troubled feelings that prompt out-of-control behaviors. You can find more information on Bach Flower Therapy online and throughout this site.

Professional help can be of tremendous benefit to both parents and teens as well. Even if the adolescent refuses to go to therapy, parents will find that the support and strategies offered by a mental health professional can make a huge difference in their family life.

These are some of the ways we can begin to help our hurting kids. Remember that you are the adult – you must show the way. Patience and love will help a lot. Keep envisioning your troubled teen moving through and beyond these years to a very positive outcome. This optimistic picture wilil help you survive the turbulent times and do your best when it is hardest. It will counteract the anxiety that causes you to over-react or “forget” good parenting skills. The truth is that most kids turn around at some point and become very pleasant, well-adjusted adults – just like you!

Toddler Hurts People

Two year-olds can be cute – but not when they’re being aggressive. Little guys who don’t get their way may become downright unpleasant – biting, hitting and throwing things and generally wreaking havoc. Some are rough with their baby siblings. Some are rough with their older siblings! Many are rough with their parents, babysitters and nannies.

What makes a two year old that tough? Some grown men and women feel helpless in the presence of their raging toddler. The energy and sheer endurance of a furious small person can frighten and overwhelm anyone of any age. They may be short, but they can definitely be loud, dramatic and even violent. In fact, this is their one self-defence tool: their ability to be out-of-control!

Of course, not all toddlers get extremely aggressive. Some by nature are very meek and mild and just not capable of great tantrums. Most can carry out a good tantrum once in awhile. And some are born experts. Somewhere in their genes they inherit a strong opinion, a strong will and a strong temper. The combination shows up when they feel frustrated or thwarted.

What to Do
Stay calm! A raging toddler doesn’t need a raging adult in his presence. He needs someone sane and in control  – especially to model these traits! He also needs a calm adult to help him return to a calm state. So take a deep breath and sit down. This helps turn off your own adrenalin response. Speak v-e-r-y slowly to a raging toddler. Speak in a quiet, low tone of voice. “I’m waiting for you to stop crying screaming/throwing/hitting.” By putting yourself in a controlled state, you will be sending out calming vibrations to the child. You can further help, if you like, by dropping 4 drops of the Bach Remedy called Rescue Remedy into a small glass of water and taking sips every few minutes to help you stay calm, and trying to give your upset youngster sips to help calm her down as well. If a child is lashing out you can just put a few drops of the Rescue Remedy water right on her arms or any other part of her body. Rescue Remedy comes in a spray form too so you might find that handy. Although it isn’t “magic” you may find that it quickly helps an angry child to get back to herself. (You can find more information on Rescue Remedy and the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site).

When the toddler’s “fit” has ended, apply the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for more information). Tell him that tantrums/aggression/yelling and so on, are unacceptable ways of expressing upset. Tell him that he can use his words to describe upset (like “I’m not happy now” or “I don’t like that” or “I don’t want that”). If the child hasn’t got enough language yet to express emotions, then show the child how to fold his arms and look unhappy or give him a sign-language word for “mad.”  Then tell him that if he gets aggressive again, he will have to spend some time in a thinking chair. On the next occasion that the child lashes out, wait until you and he are both calm. THEN, send him to a thinking chair for 2 minutes. (To learn how to keep him there, see the book on “tickets” and “jail”).

Be sure not to accidently reinforce aggressive behavior with lots of attention (good or bad). Instead, give tons of attention to the child when he expresses anger appropriately. Use praise and even rewards to show that calm, respectful communication of negative emotion is your goal (“Good for you! You told me that you’re upset and didn’t throw anything. I think this deserves an extra story at storytime tonight!”).

For the most part, aggressive toddlers grow out of this kind of behavior. Some kids, however, have a strong case of aggressive genes. If at 4, 5 or 6 years of age the child is still using aggression to communicate feelings, it’s a good idea to send him for some art therapy or other kind of child-friendly therapy. The sooner he recovers from this tendency the easier it will be to have a complete turnaround. Try not to wait till he’s 10 or 12 because the problem will be much more entrenched in his neural pathways.

Temper Tantrums

A temper tantrum is an explosion. It is a burst of adrenaline manifesting in red faces, ask clenched fists, sale loud ranting and sometimes physical aggression. A person experiencing a temper tantrum is completely overwhelmed with emotion. He or she cannot be reasoned with because the frontal cortex (thinking center of the brain) is “offline.” Anger, patient panic and helpless rage control the show. Temper tantrums are unpleasant to witness, to say the least. Sometimes, depending on who is having them, they can be outright dangerous.

Who Has a Temper Tantrum?
We tend to think of tantrums as fits of anger thrown by exasperated toddlers. However, the reality is that people of every age can have temper tantrums. There are indeed 3 year-old temper tantrums, but there are also 9 month-old baby temper tantrums, temper tantrums in ages 12-24 months, preschool (4 and 5 year-old) temper tantrums, school-age child temper tantrums (that is, 6 year old temper tantrums right up to 11 year old temper tantrums), teenage temper tantrums and adult temper tantrums. In other words, tantrums occur across the entire spectrum of ages. They are not limited to any particular type of population but occur in regular folks as well as those with mental health problems or physical health problems. They tend to occur more frequently in some groups—for example, a link has been noted in ADD (attention deficit disorder) and temper tantrums and a similar link in Asperger syndrome temper tantrums. Adults with mood regulation disorders such as manic depressive disorder and borderline personality disorder also show a significant increase in temper tantrums. Some physical disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease are associated with a sudden appearance of temper tantrums in people who’ve never been prone to them.

Why Do They Happen?
Some temper tantrums simply come from the release of brain chemicals that is triggered by frustration or helplessness. For example, infant temper tantrums occur because the completely helpless newborn has needs that he cannot express in any other way. He is totally powerless over his environment, except for the one power tool he has in his kit: his ability to tantrum! Similarly, it is normal for 9 month-old babies to throw temper tantrums simply because they can’t do what they want to do, say what they would like to say or have what they want to have. Their helplessness triggers the adrenaline response and they’re off and running with a full blown tantrum. We find that 17 month-old babies have an even greater incidence of temper tantrums because of an increase in a mismatch between what they want to control and what they actually can control. They experience tremendous frustration as their knowledge of the world now increases but their competencies and power lag behind. However, as children increase in competency and power, the regularity of temper tantrums decrease. Thus while we see that it is common to have frequent severe temper tantrums in toddlers, such fits of rage become much less common in the school years.

When tantrums continue to occur in late childhood and beyond they require professional intervention. Something is seriously wrong. If the environment is still characterized by intense helplessness, perhaps the person is dealing with abuse. If helplessness is not the cause, sometimes poor modeling is the demon. Children sometimes live with parents who tantrum. They simply learn to tantrum as a communication tool. However, intervention is still required because those who communicate via temper tantrums will have serious relationship difficulties in life, including marriage and parenting problems and sometimes work problems as well. If the environment is not problematic at all, then physical or mental problems can be causing temper tantrums in this older group. Professional assessment and treatment can be helpful.

Handling Temper Tantrums
Everyone has to deal with temper tantrums at some point. Here are some tips for handling them:

  • When an infant throws a tantrum, try to determine what her needs are and address them. If you can’t find a specific cause of her frustration, assume some internal distress and simply try to soothe the baby with holding, caressing and gentle talk.
  • When a toddler tantrums, be patient. Wait for the adrenaline to run its course. Do not try to calm the child by asking questions, threatening or bribing. Just softly say something like, “I know you’re upset. When you finish crying you can tell me what you want and I’ll try to help” or “I know you’re mad/sad. I’m sorry you can’t have (the cookie or whatever). When you’re finished crying, we can have a story.” Do not talk to the child about the tantrum itself. Just wait it out, unless the child is actually violent during a tantrum. In that case, tell the child gently that he’ll have to finish his tantrum in his room and when he’s finished, he can come for his story/hug or whatever. A calm, unimpressed response to toddler tantrums helps children move through the tantrum stage much more quickly.
  • When a school-age child tantrums, wait for the adrenaline to run its course. When the child is calm, name her feelings. “I know you’re upset about (whatever).” Offer comfort. Then teach her that temper tantrums aren’t a good way to communicate. (Make sure that you are not modeling tantrums of your own!). Let her know that her tantrums upset you/the household. They have to stop. Discuss consequences if necessary. (See a full discussion of temper-stopping strategies in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe)
  • If an adult in your life is tantrumming, speak to your medical doctor for advice and consider arranging a consultation with a mental health professional for further guidance.