Popsicles, splash pads, barbecues….and tears?

By Mary Tabak, Our Kids Network Developmental Assets Manager

Keeping your cool when kids’ behavior heats up

Yes, summertime. We all look forward to the relaxing days, kids out of school, family barbecues, and summer fun. But when you have children in your life, there can be power struggles, temper tantrums, hurt feelings, and banged up knees. How we handle these moments can mean the difference between a good day and a bad day for our kids. 

I remember one summer day many years ago when my five-year-old packed his bags and decided to move out. People had been coming and going in the house all day, as I rushed to prepare for a large family barbecue. He walked into the kitchen, Spiderman luggage in hand, and told me that he was going to live with grandma. Without thinking I said, “Go ahead, but you better start walking now because you won’t get there until tomorrow.” He turned on his heels and walked out the door. 

I watched as he marched along the sidewalk. Fortunately those few moments, as I followed him, gave me the time needed realize how my thoughtless response had hurt him. Of course, I caught up with him, hugged him tight, and apologized. I told him how much I love him. Then we sat on the sidewalk and figured out how he was feeling and why. 

Have you ever had a parenting moment when you blurted out a thoughtless, hurtful comment? Have you wished you could take back something you just said to your child? Of course you have. 

When children and youth’s behavior is challenging, we can be triggered by their actions or things they may say. But before we can help them, we need to regulate our own emotions and get to an internal calm space, so that we can truly support their needs.

These are a few things that I could have said to give myself time to think, reassure him, and diffuse the situation:

  • I can see you are upset and that’s okay. 
  • Something is hard for you right now.  How can I help? 
  • We can figure this out together.  Tell me more.
  • Can you help me understand what you need?
  • I care about you and would hate to see you go.
  • Let’s come up with another solution together.

Think about keeping statements and questions like this where you can see and practice them regularly, until they become natural and habitual. (My kids have memories of me running to the fridge door when I needed a few seconds to think!) A simple strategy like modelling emotional regulation will build meaningful relationships with your kids.

Loving mom talks sweetly to son outside

Thanks to our friends at Reach Out Centre for Kids (ROCK) a Halton agency for child and youth mental health, for developing this resource, What You Can Say When Children are Upset.