Having a list of trust-based parenting tools is great unless you choose to use them when they’re not effective. With kids from hard places, there are a set of tools you want to access when your child is triggered and in survival mode. The rest are not effective unless you have met his primal need and regained access ot your child’s logic or thinking brain.
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Here’s a breakdown of which tools to use when.
In the “moment,” when your child cannot be reasoned with or is in the throws of a meltdown,
- Regulate your emotional state. This is first priority. If you don’t do this, you won’t be able to swallow doing anything else that follows on this list.
- Embrace the privilege of saying, “Yes!” This goes almost against every parenting intuition, but saying “yes” to something you normally wouldn’t say “yes” to can stop a meltdown in it’s tracks. Be sure to get some words and respect before giving the “yes.” You can offer by saying something like, “I know you’re really upset. I would love to get you some ice cream right now <<or insert other special treat>> but I need you to ask first with good words and eyes.” Remember to keep the bar low.
- Respond to fear with connection. All the behaviors we hate are almost always driven by fear. Try validating the fear behind the behavior and entering into your child’s world in order to guide him back to felt safety.
- Take play seriously. If our kids are expecting us to get angry or get drawn into their manipulation and we offer play, sometimes they can’t help but come along.
- Practice Total Voice Control (Tone, Volume, Cadence). Whatever you do, be mindful of how you sound. Your voice alone can diffuse or escalate a situation.
- Focus on nonverbal communication. Watch for clues that your child is giving about what his emotional state or primal need is. Additionally, be mindful of what your body language is communicating. When at all possible try to maintain posture that is below your child as opposed to towering over him.
- Respond to sensory processing needs. Offer to arm wrestle or push a wall down together. These activities often satisfy the need to be aggressive but end up calming the brain.
- Offer a snack. Sometimes low blood sugar contributes to the inability to regulate.
- Respond efficiently (Levels of Engagement). Be mindful about whether your reaction is diffusing or escalating.
- Encourage and praise liberally. Look beyond the current behavior and praise your child for who he is.
After your child has fully reconnected with you and is not completely fear-driven or just a random time of calm and connection, then try
- Encouraging him to identify feelings. You may need to do this indirectly by asking him to tell the story of the day or by you telling him a story that reflects what happened with another character as central and having him identify how that character was feeling.
- Role-playing the incorrect and then correct repsonses to a situation. Try to work in role-playing regularly in your routine so you can start building new neuropathways that you child can access.
- A re-do. You won’t be satisfied with any re-do that happens in the “moment,” so it’s best to save it until you’re both re-regulated.
- Giving choices. A dysregulated kid will always find that third choice or refuse to make one. Giving choices pre-emptively to avoid meltdowns can also be effective.
- Offering a compromise. A child in meltdown mode may not be able to accept a compromise so connect first and remind your child you’re on his side before pulling this out of the toolbox.
What are your favorite tools for in and out of the “moment?”