“When we are our angriest, we are our stupidest.”
As a school counselor one of the trainings I went through was called Therapeutic Crisis Intervention. It is a way of understanding crisis as an opportunity to connect and teach new behavior and I have found it is also helpful in parenting and raising children. The Chinese define crisis as danger + opportunity. This is a helpful way of looking at a potentially “hot” situation because it instills hope that their will be something positive to come of the difficult behavior.
The goal of any intervention is for the child to come away empowered and better able to self-regulate and solve problems without adult help. What one does not want to happen is for a power struggle to ensue. Power struggles will only encourage the kid to view their parents as people who should not be trusted, kept at an arm’s length, and not really caring about their autonomy (ability to govern ones-self).
The 5 phases of the Stress Model of Crisis are: the baseline state, the triggering phase, the escalating phase, an outburst (violence, screaming), and recovery.
When a child is in a baseline state they are functioning normally. When a child is triggered you may want to ask yourself:
1. Why did this happen today, and not yesterday?
2. Is this typical behavior for my child?
3. Is my child expressing a need?
4. Is this developmentally typical?
5. Does this behavior reflect an implicit or explicit way of being in our family during a crisis?
(sidenote: these questions are very helpful if you are trying to understand why YOU, as a parent/care-taker, were triggered by a situation. In addition to these questions you should ask yourself: what happened in my childhood that may have contributed to these feelings.)
If your child’s behavior has escalated it is important to not escalate with them. It is a luring trap to be weary of because it is so easy to drawn into a power struggle, succumb to your triggers as a parent, act immaturely (yell, threaten), and say/do things to your children that your parents said/did to you that you swore you would never repeat. So how do you not escalate with them? Ideas could include: empathize with the fact that they have these big of feelings, take a moment to get perspective on the situation, take a deep breath, walk away, or ask for help.
Now, if a child’s behavior has escalated and is now in the outburst phase some thoughts to consider: is this child’s behavior a threat (to himself or others or property)? Have other interventions been tried (change environment, talking to kid)? Physical restraint is NEVER a first choice option but if your kid is acting in a way that could pose serious harm, intervention is warranted. Carefully and gently restrain child and tell them “I am not going to hurt you, but you may not hurt me. When you are calm I will let go. Lets take a deep breath together.” It is imperative that parents know that physical restraints must never be used as (a) punishments, (b) consequences, or (c) for demonstrating “who is in charge”. Not ever. Also, restraints must be stopped as soon as your child is no longer a risk of harm to self or others.
Once the child has calmed down take them to a quiet place away from distractions. Face them, get on their eye level or below, and listen. Speak calmly and respectfully and make sure they understand. Ask you child to think about outcomes of his behavior and brainstorm other behaviors and their outcomes. Don’t make it personal, make it factual. Give you child some time and space to think and do not pressure them to say the “right” thing, remind yourself that they are in fact learning and that is a process of testing out right and wrong ideas. That being said, do correct them if they give suggestions that would not be appropriate. End the conversation with a hug or other gesture of love and affection to remind them that you love them despite them having behaviors that you may not love.
A universal goal of most parents is to create trusting and caring relationships with their children. Showing kids exactly how to treat people, and how they should expect to be treated by people, even during difficult times is a critical skill. With a little knowhow, parents can feel confident to help their kids even through the boldest of emotions.