Parents as Soothing Agents

When our little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it is our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.
— L.R. Knost

Parents and caregivers are critically important in helping children regulate their emotional states. Often, however, it is the very tantrums and meltdowns that spike parents' own anxiety reactions, leaving them unable to respond effectively as soothing agents. You might find yourself attempting to calm your child down through persuasion, coaxing, arguing them out of the anxiety, or rescuing them from the emotion. What if parents stopped trying to change behavior, and changed how they thought about parenting? Parents have the power to adjust their own thoughts and feelings about the struggles of parenting and about what a child's behavior is trying to communicate.

Dr. Dan Siegel proposes "Connection before correction." Parents need to first listen to the child, acknowledge her feelings, and offer guidance. The acronym SOOTHE (developed by Goodyear-Brown, Ashford, and van Eys) helps parents remember strategies to responding to emotional symptoms.

S = soft tone of voice, soft tone of face

0 = organize the child's experience

O = offer choices or a way out

T = touch or physical proximity

H = hear what the child is needing

E = end and let go

Elevation of a parent's voice will only feed the escalation of a child's tantrum. "If parents can choose to lower their voices, use a soothing tone, and remain calm, they will be anchoring the child's experience beneath the current level of escalation." (Paris Good-Year Brown in Play Therapy with Traumatized Children).

A lack of structure intensifies anxiety and dysregulation. Consistent schedules and soothing routines help to organize your child. Offering a narrow range of choices to a child helps to manage the emotion that arises during a decision making process, as well as provide a positive sense of control. A simple touch or physical proximity is meant to reaffirm children and keep the parent child relationship intact. Hearing what your child is communicating is discerning what the child's need is. This discernment will guide your response. Does your child's behavior communicate a need for attention? power? to feel adequate? rest? a snack? Lastly, Dan Siegel (2003) talks about the toxic ruptures that can occur between parents and children when upset occurs but it is never processed. Parents need to acknowledge their right to their own feelings of anger and exhaustion, but also let go of it, and remain responsive to their child after the meltdown has occurred.

Once connection is built, parents can move to the next step and discuss the issue. Helpful questions that encourage connection are: "What happened? How did this anger feel inside your body? How did this feeling make you react? What would be another choice for next time you feel sad?"

If you are interested in more helpful tips, we recommend "The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind" by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. "Peaceful Parenting, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting" by Laura Markham)

Raising Confident, Capable Kids in a Performance Filled Culture

Children who come to believe that our love, praise, or affection is contingent on their pleasing us and doing what we want them to do become the most vulnerable of all people.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

I have been silently taking inventory of our culture's and many families' perceptions of performance and raising confident/capable kids. What stands out the most is the unintentional reinforced value that performance has on self-worth. What also stands out are misconceptions of grace and confidence which affect children's perceptions of life and faith.

Before we dive in, you must understand as parents, that it is never too late to make improvements. We are easily caught up in performance based parenting and feeling the shame and guilt of not parenting the way we "should" or the way others do. We equate our parenting performance with our self-worth as a parent. We begin to parent out of fear of inadequacy instead out of grace and confidence.

We grow and change much faster when we shed discouraging thoughts about what we have failed to accomplish.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

To get all of us started in making some improvements, I will be referencing and pulling out pieces from these resources: Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen) and What's So Amazing About Grace? (Philip Yancey).

In today's culture we are bombarded with opportunities and pressures for our kids to perform or to prove their abilities. How do we carve out self-confidence, self-validation, self-discipline, good judgement, and a sense of responsibility in our children? These capabilities can be nourished in young people through  1. networking 2. finding meaningful roles 3. exploring 4. celebrating 5. setting limits, 6. developing self-control and 7. modeling grace.

First let's understand "perception." When we think through our experiences, we form conclusions about ourselves and our lives (perception). Children make decisions about themselves based upon their experiences. They think about what they need to do to survive or thrive. When a child's perceptions are threatened or when their perceptions are not consistent with the environment, their brain reacts, which sends a signal to their body to react. You've heard of fight, flight, or freeze. Read more about brain science and behavior here.

Perceptions are unique. Perceptions are keys to attitudes, motivation, and behavior. Perceptions must first be supported and challenged in order to change.

Glenn and Nelsen in Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World suggest ways of helping children process their experiences and examine their perceptions.

1. Identify: What are the important parts of the experience? What happened? What was the outcome? What were your feelings? What was most important?

2. Analyze: Why was that important to you? What were you trying to do?

3. Generalize: How can you use this information next time? What do you need to repeat to achieve the same outcome?

Nourishing Your Child's Capabilities

Networking

The simplest of all networks is friendship.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

People are tribal creatures designed for relationships. We excel when we collaborate, teach, affirm, and encourage each other. Who is in your tribe with whom you can dialogue about the world, about life, and about kids?

Finding Meaningful Roles

Today we need to deal with our young people actively in ways that cause them to believe they are significant contributors rather than just objects or passive recipients of our activities.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

As children find meaningful roles in their family and in their social groups, they develop a sense of importance and personal significance. Focus, direction, a sense of ownership, all help to foster this perception of personal significance. When we listen to our children and take them seriously, we can restore collaboration with them. What are some ways you can offer meaningful roles to your children? How can you incorporate family meetings into your routine? What ritual, tradition, or activity can you devote weekly time?

The need to be needed is often more powerful than the need to survive.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Exploring

Experience, especially one that’s reflected on, is a far more effective teacher than parents could ever be.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Too often parents or caregivers step in prematurely instead of allowing a child to do for himself or to experience for himself. When parents are too quick to offer an explanation or expertise, the child is left feeling vulnerable or intimidated. They may form the perception of: I am not capable unless they are here. What would happen if they were not there? Rescuer parents rescue children from inadequacy and then enable them to remain vulnerable. 

By helping our children explore their experiences, they will develop confidence in their ability to learn and problem solve.

Celebrating

When we recognize effort and progress, we get more results.  Sometimes we unintentionally set up a trap for our children by steering them to be independent and then objecting to their way of doing things. Instead, encourage children with specific feedback and acknowledgement of effort.

When we praise the performance or praise the results, we lose sight of the individual and her effort and contribution. Examine how you celebrate your own successes or how you evaluate your mistakes. Do you communicate that self worth and self control are independent of external circumstances?

Setting Limits

Setting limits is an exercise in using our wisdom and experience to anticipate possible problems and solve them in advance.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Too often we wait until after something has gone wrong to decide what we'll do about it. We often react with anger and say meaningless things. Determining limits together with a child before a situation occurs will help your child's sense of control remain intact. Using firmness and respect to communicate and follow through with a limit provides opportunity for your child to honor the limit and exercise self-control. 

Developing Self-Control

Our children's capability to recognize and acknowledge personal feelings directly affects their ability to select an appropriate behavioral response to a feeling.

Once children become comfortable with the notion that their feelings are, as are the feelings of others, a legitimate, worthy part of their lives, they are ready to take the next step-to self-control.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Developmentally around eight years old, most children are capable of controlling impulses that bring immediate gratification and instead choosing a behavior that achieves a goal.

Philip Yancey in What's So Amazing About Grace chooses the word gratitude for motivation for "being good." We want our children to strive to do well and to have self-control--not to make their parents or God love them (we already do), but because of gratitude and a sense of love within a relationship. 

Modeling Grace

By instinct I feel I must do something in order to be accepted. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.
— What's So Amazing About Grace? (Phillip Yancey)

Take the initiative to model grace by laying down retribution or fairness. Reinforce your love for your children regardless of performance or behavior. Speak truth and life into your children. Speak to who they are becoming. Forgive. Lay down all of your needs for gratitude and compliments.

We are modeling grace when we allow our children to operate from within themselves, to practice self-control, to explore experiences and opportunities, and to practice their abilities. Regardless of performance or failures, we can gracefully communicate to our children through our attitudes, words, modeling, and forgiveness that they are worthy of unconditional love. This sets the stage for them to explore faith, accept spiritual grace, and to realize their greater worth.

Next Steps

You've read through all of this information, now ask your self "What is the most important thing I've come to realize? What behavior change do I want to make? Why is this realization important right now? How can it make a difference in my life or my child's life? Where do I want to first apply it?"

Complete the following statement: As a result of this awareness, the first thing I will do at the first opportunity is....

The Play Project

The Play Project is a public awareness initiative developed by The Playroom Lubbock to encourage play, movement, and mindfulness in our kids' lives. Play is how our kids make sense of the world. Many of you have an impact in children's lives through play. The message we want to send is that play and mindfulness is an integral part of life for communicating, coping, adjusting, and discovering. At The Playroom Lubbock we provide therapy solutions for kids using play based interventions to help them fulfill their purpose in this life.

TShirt Designs by Kelly Martin, LPC of The Playroom Lubbock and Regina Penney of Penney Photography and Design.

Car, Mealtime, Bedtime, and Device Hassles over the Holidays

During the holidays our schedules and routines change, road trips happen, boredom may settle in, and parents may feel like they are dealing with more behavior hassles rather than focusing on whatever their reason is for the season. Here are some quick tips to implement when there are hassles in the car, at mealtime, at bedtime, and over electronic devices. (Tips compiled from Positive Discipline A-Z by Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott, and H. Stephen Glen).

Car Hassles

1. If you are having car hassles with the kids, it may be time for some training. Leave plenty of time to get to your destination. When kids start yelling or fighting, simply pull over and wait without saying a word. In this case actions speak louder than words. You've clearly heard loud words coming from the backseat. Mix it up and use your actions rather than trumping the kids' noise level.

2. If the trip is long, make frequent stops so the kids can get out and stretch.

3. Before departing on a trip ask the kids for their ideas that will help make the trip more comfortable and fun for them. 

4. Utilize a calm down box in the car when frustrations arise. Items to include in a calm down box could be: headphones, silly putty, stretchy toy, magna doodle, or a pinwheel.

Mealtime Hassles

1. Trust your kids to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are not. Inadvertently interfering in this natural process could plant the seeds for eating disorders.

2. Sit down as a family and eat a meal together--without TV or devices. Engage your kids' help with setting the table or making decorations. Plan with them what they can do to contribute.

3. If kids know it's ok to choose what they will or won't eat, they are less apt to complain. 

4. If kids complain about the cooking, simply say it's okay not to eat it, but it hurts feelings when they say they don't like it.

5. Schedule your meal time and communicate what time to your kids. Emphasize sharing stories, visiting, and sharing good feelings.

6. Practice good table manners at a time other than mealtime by making it fun, using humor, and exaggerating.

7. If you see mealtime as a time to make kids eat and to lecture about manners, the kids will probably pay you back with bad manners.

Bedtime Hassles

1. Serious bedtime problems are most often as result of parents engaging in power struggles.

2. It's important for kids to have input, but not to run the family.

3. One reason children seek more attention at bedtime is that they haven't received a good dose of it during the day. Be available.

4. Define an allotted time for the bedtime routine and stick to it.

5. Once it is officially bedtime, it's time for you to get out of the room. If you child gets up, kindly and firmly without talking take your child by the hand to his room. Actions speak louder than words.

6. If you child has developed a habit of manipulation it may take 3-5 nights to retrain bedtime routines.

7. If you have engaged in power struggles, admit your mistakes with your child and learn together how to solve the problem and try the routine a different way.

8. If needed, create a bedtime routine chart with your child of what needs to be done.

9. Use humor or make it a game such as Beat the Clock.

10. Children can learn self reliance instead of manipulation skills or dependence on someone else to help them get to sleep. They can learn to respect a parents' need for time alone. 

Device Hassles

1. Involve your children in creating healthy guidelines for the use of electronic devices. Eliminate the "battle" by deciding together, and being kind and firm.

2. Give young children limited choices. For example 1 or 2 shows? Play on iPad for 30 minutes or watch a show for 30 minutes? Play before or after dinner?

3. Notice your own behavior. If you use your device excessively, it will be difficult to convince your kids to limit their time. 

4. Help the kids make a list of activities they could do when they feel bored.

5. Talk with your kids about the addictive qualities of TV or devices so they know why you are concerned.

6. Set up a rotation for sharing devices that they can all live with.

Hopefully some of these tips and tricks will ease hassles during the holidays so that you can continue healthy and productive routines. Or perhaps they will kick start your attempt at more healthy routines. Bottom line: children can learn that they don't always get what they want, that it is okay to feel upset about that, and that they will survive.

Anger Serves a Purpose

What We Know about Anger:

1. Anger is a natural emotion that varies in intensity.

2. Physiological and biological changes occur with anger (heart rate, blood pressure, adrenaline, and noradrenaline increase)

3. Some kids are more easily angered than others. This can be a result of genetics, sociocultural factors (for example, not being allowed to display the emotion), or family background.

People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration.
— Turner, Erlanger. "Tips on Helping Your Child Cope with Anger." Psychology Today, April 10, 2013

4. Subtle forms of anger in children may include pouting, sulking, and whining.

5. Anger can be a response to danger, a form of self-expression, or a declaration of independence. It can also be a symptom of being hungry, tired, or lonely.

6. Emotions under the surface of anger could be: embarrassment, annoyance, shame, guilt, grief, nervousness, insecurity, disappointment, frustration, helplessness, jealousy, regret, hurt, pressure, rejection, fear, inadequacy, or loneliness. 

Anger serves a purpose to communicate a child's unmet need. Through being aware, listening, teaching, modeling, and accepting the emotion, anger can be productive rather than destructive. Relieving rather than damaging. Insightful rather than unacceptable. Motivating rather than suppressing.

Strategies for Purposeful Anger for Children

1. Listen, Listen, Listen. Listening may include increasing your awareness prior to any outbursts of anger. What or who has changed for the child in the environment? What other feelings is the child showing? Any other physical symptoms? What is your child doing differently from his/her typical responses or routines? Listen, Listen, Listen also means the obvious for verbal kids: Listen to his/her story without any interruptions or suggestions.

2.  Teach and Model: Teach your child to identify the physical responses of anger: feeling hot? heart racing? eyes tearing up? fists clenching? grinding teeth? Put a name to feelings: decide on a feeling name for those responses and put it to use: "I am feeling so ________." Or "You're feeling really ______." Model your own anger managing behaviors by expressing the feeling, verbalizing how you will calm down, and verbalizing your choices.

3. Calm Down: Use some calming strategies when your child feels the symptoms of anger. Ideas are: taking deep breath, blowing into a pinwheel, blowing bubbles, squeezing silly putty, drinking a glass of water, playing alone, shaking sensory bottles, throwing wet sponges outside, stomping on an empty egg carton, drawing, journaling, doodling, listening to music, taking a walk, screaming in a pillow, etc. Giving your child calm down choices helps to reduce frustration, especially frustration that is a result of feeling of powerlessness or helplessness. If your child is feeling out of control and at risk of hurting himself or another person, separate her from that person or from a room/objects that aren't safe. Stop the action and restore safety. We love these 26 phrases for calming down an angry child: Click Here

4. Give Choices: This really only is helpful when a child has calmed down and all physiological responses have decreased. Look for possible solutions that may include compromising or apologizing.

5. Set Limits: Remind your child of limits to aggression. For example, "Hands aren't for hitting. If you choose to hit, you choose to not play right now." "Our family rules about cussing at people are ______. You can choose to write out your thoughts or doodle in your notebook. If you choose to cuss at your sister you choose to ___________(insert consequence)." If your child continues to break the limit, follow through with the consequence. 

6. Teach empathy and forgiveness: Children need your help with learning empathy. Without using guilt or shame, talk  about what another person's perspective might be. What are some options of expressing herself about her own perspective? Regarding forgiveness, apologies  can help kids move from guilty feelings to hopeful feelings that they can do better. Reassuring your child of your love communicates that their anger or angry behavior doesn't make him a bad kid or an unloved kid.

When Anger is Crying for Help

When anger persists and interferes with relationships with family or friends, remember that the purpose of anger is to communicate an unmet need. Are there threats to safety? Deep tensions in the family? A  developmental delay in language or social skills? Some kind of loss? If you're concerned about your child's anger, discuss this with a mental health professional. You're welcome to start with us at The Playroom Lubbock.

More on Brain Science and Resetting Your Body

Check out our other article here about the neurobiology behind anger, anxiety, and dysregulation.

 

Engaging Your Kids in Conversation with Thoughtful Questions

Thoughtful Questions

Thanks to several friends of The Playroom Lubbock, a recent blog post circulated around which you may have noticed: The Key Jar by the Momastery blog. You can find it here: http://momastery.com/blog/2015/04/24/key-jar/

This prompted me to share so many great ideas to engage your kids in conversation without the worn out "How was your day" question. Our kids learn and feel engaged in different ways: some are more verbal and love to use their words, others love using their whole bodies, some like to be analytical, and some like to be dramatic or silly. Hopefully you can adapt some of these ideas to work well for you and your child or to work well for at home, in the car, or tucked away in your purse.

Before I unlock these ideas, let's dive into some great points Momastery had in their blog post.

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Glennon also writes, "Thoughtful questions are the keys we use to do the unlocking and safekeeping." I would like to add that quality time and play in an emotionally safe environment can also greatly contribute to unlocking a child's world. It's almost time to unlock some of these ideas, but secondly, let's talk about how to "safekeep" your child's answers to these questions in order to promote a nonjudgmental and encouraging conversation.

Safekeeping

1. Reflect or paraphrase their answer

2. Leave out your opinion. It could come across judgemental or that you are evaluating their response as right/wrong.

3. Verbalize the feeling you sense from your child. "You're feeling ______about that."

4. Ask how you can help

5. Ask what your child would like to do next to accomplish ______

6. Reassure your child that you are available to any of their questions/concerns

7. Refrain from giving advice unless your child specifically asks.

8. Show your attention by using eye contact and freeing your hands.

9. Be considerate of your child's vulnerability in sharing something personal. It may not be something to share with siblings, friends, or social media.

10 Ways to engage your kids in conversation

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1. TableTopics is a cube of conversation cards that can be purchased for around $25. They come in sets for family, couples, teens, etc. Decide upon a time your child can draw a card. This would be great for in the car or stash a few in your purse.

2. Head over to Momastery and print the Key Jar questions for free. http://momastery.com/blog/2015/04/24/key-jar/

3. Buy a game of Jenga just for a conversation game. Use a sharpie marker to write down questions. Set up the Jenga game in a safe place and each day your child can find the challenge of drawing a Jenga block from the tower and answering the question. (From http://somethingtotalkaboutslp.blogspot.com/2012/01/conversation-jenga.html?m=1

4. Use a beach ball or other large plastic ball and a sharpie to write questions. Toss the ball and wherever your child's thumb or index finger lands, that is the question to answer. Great for kids who like to be active or use their bodies. (from http://morethanelementary.blogspot.com/2011/08/getting-to-know-you-activity-with-beach.html?m=1

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5. Use a jigsaw puzzle to write questions on the back. Your child can flip a piece over each day to answer.

6. Use play mustaches (found for $1 at Dollar Tree) and the free printable "I Mustache You a Question Conversation Starters" from teacherspayteachers.com. This gives kids a dramatic or silly approach to answering more serious questions.

7. Use a wand or a sword to answer questions. This gives kids a sense of power to be able to wave a wand or sword in conversation. (from http://heidibritz.com/2015/04/29/every-slp-needs-a-magic-wand/

8. Use puzzle floor mats and papers with questions. This can be a hop scotch type game, bean bag toss game, or musical squares. Where ever the child lands or the bean bag lands, he answers that question. Great for active kids!

9. Head over to iMom for some printable conversation starters you can cut out and keep in a jar, diaper wipes, container, or something your child can decorate and "take ownership." http://www.imom.com/printable_categories/conversation-starters/

10. Use puppets! You can pick up puppets at the Dollar Tree. Use some printable questions and your child can pick up a puppet to help answer their question. Helps children with risk taking of being honest and vulnerable.

We hope you enjoy adapting these ideas to fit your child's personality and needs. Feel free to comment with your own ideas or share these with others. 

Let Children Color Their Perception of Therapy

You've made the first step and made an appointment with a child/adolescent counselor. You may have showed up a little apprehensively to the initial intake appointment with the counselor/therapist. After you realize the counselor wants to support your efforts as a parent (you are, after all, the primary influence over your child's life) and the counselor "hears you out," it occurs to you that you have to think of a way to tell your child he/she is going to therapy. In fact, let's just cut out the word "therapy." Add "fix your problems," "bad feelings," "disobeying" to the list of What Not to Say. "Ideally, it is best if the child is allowed to develop their own impressions of the therapist and what therapy is all about from actual experiences in the playroom" (Killough McGuire, D. and McGuire, D, 2001. Linking Parents to Play Therapy. NC: Taylor and Francis). We hope our name, The Playroom, provides a sense of comfort and familiarity for your child so that he feels safe and free to form his own impressions.

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So How do You say It?

McGuire and McGuire in their book Linking Parents to Play Therapy suggest parents tell their child (depending on developmental level) something like this: "This is a time for you to play in a room full of toys and things you like to do with someone who really cares about you" (p. 16). As necessary, the therapist can also provide further information to the child. Another way to phrase this for an older child would be:

It’s a safe place to find support and an unbiased adult to listen.
— Kate Leyva, LMFT Contributing to Tartakovsky, M. (2015). Common Things Parents Say to Their Kids About Therapy That Aren't Helpful. Psych Central.com

Communicate with Feeling Words

When your child comes out of a session reflect his/her emotion. "You're really excited coming out of there." "You seem to feel quiet." "You're feeling ready to go!" You can also respond with a feeling to any questions they may have: "You're curious that_____." "You're wondering if ______."

Communicating about their Art/Creations

At times your child may bring home something he/she created. It is important to view their creation from their therapy session as a page out of a journal. It can be very private and emotional. Be mindful that your child may choose not to talk about it. If your child is eager to show you (and quite honestly you may have no idea what you are looking at), you can say "Tell me more about that." You can focus on details of what he or she did: "You put those colors right there." "Looks like you spent a lot of time on that." "You drew this here and that over there." Or if a child asks you if you like it, you can respond with, "What's important is if you like it. What do you think about it?"

Communicate with Nonverbals

Dr. Kay Sudekum Trotter, PhD, LPC-S, suggests that when you stay in the waiting room instead of running errands during a session, you nonverbally communicate that "you're so important to me that I will be here the whole time supporting you." (Tartakovsky, M. (2015) Common Things Parents Say to Their Kids about Therapy that Aren't Helpful. Retrieved from PsychCentral.com)

Communicate Privately with the Therapist

It is important to be mindful of little listening ears. Talking about your child's progress or lack there of, or more specifically the problems you want to see addressed, in front of the child, may lead to feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, and shame.

What NOT to Communicate:

The following list of common comments that parents make may isolate your child or negatively color their perception of therapy or the therapist.

The therapist is going to help you with your problems. You need help”
”We can’t help you anymore because your problems are too big.”
”We have to go to therapy because your dad or mom left us.”
”You need to go to therapy because since the divorce you have been really emotional and difficult to deal with.”
”Your therapist is going to be so disappointed in you for doing___”
Speaking to therapist: “Maybe you can help _____with learning how to better control his emotions when he doesn’t get his way.
— Tartakovsky, M. (2015). Common Things Parents Say to Their Kids about Therapy that Aren't Helpful. Retrieved from PsychCentral.com

 

In Conclusion

Parents are very well meaning in their communication with kids. Hopefully these suggestions provide another perspective about how your words can and should encourage your child and therapeutic play.

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