There is no one-size-fits-all method of discipline. And according to Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, psychologist and author of Discipline Without Damage, the most qualified “expert” to handle your child’s meltdowns is… you!
Her (very refreshing) approach gives parents a strategy (i.e. tools) to correct their child’s behavior without screwing them up (win!).
The core of her theory is that if you are able to truly connect with a child during a tantrum, you will keep your cool and resolve the problem.
But how to do that? Follow her 3-step process:
1. SEE IT – Understand deeply the frustration your child is experiencing.
2. FEEL IT – Show compassion and empathy towards your child.
3. BE IT – If you do the 2 things above, you will naturally respond in a way that meets your child’s needs.
We put her to the test with some of our own recent experiences and are here to report that we followed her guidance – and $h*t works.
There’s a meltdown in aisle 5 because our daughter wants the Frozen-branded sugar-filled processed snacks and we are not having it.
THE ISSUE: Since you are clearly going to stand your ground here with a big firm “no,” you are going to need to turn up your “kind” side. Your child right now is coming undone – that’s how a totally normal toddler’s brain reacts to a firm “no”. And further, she’s dealing with this terrible news during a very taxing activity – grocery shopping is overstimulating for a kid.
THE SOLVE: Time for the “No…I know” strategy. “No we are not going to buy those, Sweetie… I know you are disappointed.” And as the escalation continues, you just calmly and empathically repeat yourself using various iterations of the “No…I know” response. Until it is done (i.e. when your child moves from angry, frustrated bawls to soft, sad tears).
KEEP IN MIND: While this fun is going on, focus only on your child. Don’t worry about or engage the lookie-loos in the store.
IN DIRE STRAITS: Park your cart with customer service and handle the situation outside the store.
Our daughter only wants mommy to do the bath and bedtime routine, and frankly, mommy is exhausted. And daddy’s feelings are legitimately hurt.
THE ISSUE: If mommy is the child’s primary caregiver, then she’s highly likely the go-to comforter. It’s not that daddy isn’t cool or loved, but your child’s brain associates mommy as the one who soothes when upset. On top of that, separation from a parent is a universal fear for kids, and the bath-bedtime routine is an impending separation – hence kids become deregulated at this time.
THE SOLVE: Time for daddy to take control of the relationship with his child rather than be insecure about it – he’s fully capable of showing compassion and connecting too. Since going cold turkey with mom will not go over well, try having mom be present (with a glass of wine in hand if she likes) while dad does the “work” of bath and books, and you both give a kiss goodnight.
KEEP IN MIND: You send a powerful message of your united front and equal roles by doing it together for a bit.
IN DIRE STRAITS: We find when mom is out of sight, she’s out of mind too and the child welcomes daddy doing the whole routine. So if your child is melting down about daddy even being involved in bedtime, mom needs to start having “plans” (i.e. get outta the house!).
Our son just bit the child over for a playdate. We’re horrified (as is the other child’s mother). How to nip this behavior in the bud stat?
THE ISSUE: There is nothing like a good bite to worry parents about aggressive behavior, but the reality is, kids bite for 27 reasons, and aggression – 9.9 times out of 10 – isn’t one of them. Kids bite to regulate (watch when they close their sweet little mouths on someone or something and their eyes sort of glaze over) and to communicate frustration when they don’t yet have the emotional savvy to do so with words. Don’t be horrified by this.
THE SOLVE: First, swoop in firmly (but with kindness in your eyes) and say “No, this must stop” followed by a “distraction action” to move your child onto something else to settle him down – maybe a drink of water or a snuggle in your lap. If your child is very young child with little understanding of language, this is all you need to do. If your child is older and understands more, wait for him to calm down and then explain that “biting hurts, and you know he is kind, and that next time around you want to be able to count on him not to use biting to solve a problem – and to come to you for help instead.”
KEEP IN MIND: If your child tends to bite frequently, you need to be on high alert around other children, so you can prevent any impending chomping.
We spend 20 minutes, multiple times a day, trying to put a coat on our 2.5-year-old, and we’re about. to. lose. it. #TheStruggleIsReal
THE ISSUE: Putting a coat on a child is a signal you are transitioning them to another activity and/or place. And transitions are hard for littles’ brains to process, hence the meltdowns.
THE SOLVE: As a first line of attack, give your child some verbal transition warnings: “We need to leave for school in 5 minutes. 2 more minutes, Honey!” Couple that with making putting on their coat a fun activity by teaching a coat-flip-trick – now he’s a “coat magician”!
KEEP IN MIND: Some kids run hot and are really bothered by being overheated in winter wear. Think about what your child actually needs versus what you want him to wear.
IN DIRE STRAITS: Some kids need a visual warning on top of verbal warnings. TimeTimer has an app or an actual timer clock that can do the trick.
We just prepped homemade meatballs that our kid is throwing on the floor while smiling maniacally. This madness must be stopped!
THE ISSUE: Young kids engage in this kind of behavior as a beautiful (albeit messy) example of the relationship dance that forms the foundation of healthy emotional development – they do something, you respond to it. And it is incredibly gratifying to their attachment-focused brains. A child’s brain doesn’t practice self-control until age 5-7, so if meatball tossing sounds fun, then meatball tossing it will be.
THE SOLVE (2 AND UNDER): For a child in this age group, simply find another way to engage in some back-and-forth so that need is met without meatball-palooza. Peek-a-boo, a tickle game, or whatever else you can come up with in the moment.
THE SOLVE (3+): Very calmly, and with kindness in your eyes, move the meatballs aside. Respond with compassion, “It seems that you are having a tricky time eating your meatballs.” Then let your child know what is needed, “This needs to stop… meatballs go in your mouth only.” After this, secure a good intention, “Can I count on you to land those meatballs right in your mouth?” And if things cannot be calmed at this point, just very matter of factly move the meatballs away again and say, “It looks like eating meatballs is not going to work out, so I’ll just set them here for now.” This is not as a consequence, just a reality of you taking care of the situation for your child who isn’t in a frame of mind to do so herself. Follow this up by engaging her in something else. Maybe have some water. Then try the meatballs again when she’s more settled.
No matter what we ask our 2.5-year-old child to do (pick up toys, brush teeth, put clothes in hamper), she blatantly just doesn’t listen or oblige.
THE ISSUE: You’re not connected to your child’s “yes brain” when you’re asking her to do something, and she’s busy doing something else and simply not paying attention to you.
THE SOLVE: To get VIP access to her “yes brain”, connect with her by taking a keen interest in what she’s engaged in – “Look at this amazing block castle you are building! I love it.” The next step is to put fun in your request, like “Let’s sing the clean up song while we pick up the toys!” “Let’s play the clean-up race!” “It’s time to go upstairs and brush your teeth now – do you want to climb the stairs using your elephant feet or your bunny feet?!” “Let’s play basketball laundry – first you, then mom… ready, set, go!”
Now go have a very stiff cocktail – you’ve earned it.