This is the first in a three-part blog series.
By Elissa Gonzalez, M.D., M.P.H.
Pediatric Resident, PGY3
Baylor College of Medicine
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio
Part 1: Preventing the Ugly
By ugly, I mean the uncontrollable tantrums, the fighting, the hitting, and the angry outbursts. When we can prevent our child’s ugly behavior, we as parents are preserving our own sanity every day. Here are some guidelines to help prevent these episodes; however, this will not eliminate these behaviors completely since your children are human after all.
- Meeting needs
Bonding. First you must bond. Establishing a strong connection with your child is an important factor in changing negative behaviors and maintaining positive behaviors. With younger children, maintaining a positive warm tone through play and getting down at eye level can help with building connections. In older children, showing interest in their daily activities and being flexible (listening and negotiating) can serve the same purpose. Sharing in decision-making is helpful for understanding each other and empowering your child at any age.
For example, you may give your toddler the option of either walking to the car or hopping to the car. An older child may feel empowered to get to decide to watch his one-hour TV program now and homework later or the reverse. In either situation, you are still deciding the end result. Involving the child in decision-making has been associated with long-term enhancement of moral judgment.
Bonding can be hard to accomplish and maintain. It takes time, effort, and practice. Your child will change constantly. Knowing who they are and supporting them as individuals will be a work in progress. Giving consistent love and affection will aid in this journey.
Emotions. Let’s talk about emotions which is something not often done in our society. Emotions are often hard to express though easily felt, which can be the root of ugly episodes. Working on expressing how you feel inside is important to model for children so they can understand their own feelings and what to do with them. For example, you might say, “I am hurt right now because you hit me with that book. It makes me sad to see someone I love hurt me.” Help your child label certain emotions they are having and find healthy ways to cope with those emotions.
Routine. Make a schedule and stick with it. Providing a consistent routine and expectations can help convey respect for your child and help with your sanity. Think of all the activities that result in arguments at home. Homework? Dinner? Chores? In my family, it’s bath time. Creating schedules that are the same every day can reduce resistance and make negative experiences less stressful.
Anticipation. No matter the age of your child, interrupting their activities, whether it is a video game or blocks, can be very stressful and emotionally charged for your child. Using timers and warnings is important for managing their expectations; letting them know they have five minutes left, then three minutes, and one minute before changing activities. Sometimes there are moments when you forget to anticipate a change in the schedule or you need to leave somewhere quickly and during those times you can incorporate what they are doing into the next activity. For example, when my child is focused on his monster trucks and it is time to get in the car, but I did not plan ahead for an anticipation timer, I see where he is in his play and bring it into our car. “Your truck is going to the mountains? I bet it would be faster if he hitched a ride with us! Let’s bring your truck with us.” Or, “Your animals/blocks look dirty. Bring them into the bath tub so we can wash them.”
Meeting needs. I am talking about basic everyday needs. When your child has missed a nap or a meal, they are in no condition to properly reason. I know when my infant keeps me up all night, my fuse is much shorter, and it takes more intentional energy to deal with everyday tasks. Kids are the same way! Feed them. Make them sleep. Prevent ugly behaviors.
Part 2 of this blog series will focus on de-emphasizing your child’s bad or negative behavior by choosing your own words more carefully and redirecting your reaction to bad behavior in a more positive way.
Dr. Elissa Gonzalez is a third-year pediatric resident at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Development and since has tried to incorporate the whole child approach in her practice. Dr. Gonzalez’s research and training has been in the areas of pediatrics and prevention of diseases since her passion is in the areas of working with children and families. She obtained a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree and a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. During her free time, you can find her riding bikes at the many parks in town or walking around the farmers market with her husband and children.