Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Melt-Down Miracle

I knew we were pushing it last night with my three-year-old. We decided to have a bonfire on the beach after dinner. He ran and played and laughed for over an hour, then started asking to go home, actually asking to go to bed. We promptly gathered up our things and got in the car, but it was too late. His fatigue had given way to a melt-down. He was asking for more hot chocolate, which we had finished off half an hour before. As he cried, "I WANT MORE HOT CHOCOLATE!" I tried to tell him it was gone but we would soon be home. He cried even louder, tears streaming down his face.

The phrase "emotional crisis" flitted through my brain. I decided to try a different approach. "I hear how much you want it!" I said, over his crying. "I wish I could make some more appear!" And that was it. He stopped crying immediately. He had been heard.

This remarkable little moment was all thanks to How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk. I just taped a copy of page 27 to the bathroom mirror this week. The jist of it was to make sure the child knows his feelings, however silly they seem to us, are heard and accepted. I know this goes against instinct for a lot of us. When we hear a kid say something so ridiculous, we want to explain the real reason, "You're just tired. You need to go to bed." But this seldom does anything to stop the melt-down.

Some of you may even remember being punished for crying. The adult doesn't think hot chocolate is worth crying about, so tries to force you to stop being upset. One can only wonder at the long term consequences of this kind of parenting.

I know that for me, this little four step technique has been a wonderful tool for making our lives more happy and peaceful. Sometimes I switch to two steps, if the melt-down is already in progress. The technique can be used for kids as young as two and a half, probably up until adulthood. So here it is, page 27, reworded a bit:

Helping Children Deal with Their Feelings

1. Listen to the child quietly and attentively.

2. Acknowledge their feelings with a word or phrase.
"Oh. Yes. I see." "I hear how much you __________"

3. Help the child name the feeling.
"That sounds frustrating!"

4. Give the child his wishes in fantasy.
"I wish I could make the banana ripe for you right now!"

If you do this in public (because, of course, that is where you child has her loudest, most ridiculous melt-downs, right?) people are going to stare. They are going to look at you like you're crazy. But then it's going to work, and they will see just what an amazing parent you are! Ta-dah!

I should mention that there is a lot more to this book than dealing with emotions. The authors also masterfully cover how to get more co-operation from your children, plus how they deal with punishment, praise, and autonomy. I highly recommend it.