Create the family you want to have

Taming the “Nasties” in Your Child- Part 2

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C


Child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In last’s week’s post, I wrote about the underlying causes of children behaving in a nasty way toward adults.  This week, I want to look at some ways I have found to address this behavior with children that can help them learn to change the way they speak to you and other adults.  As I stated in my previous post, in order to know how to resolve an issue, knowing the origin of the issue is incredibly helpful.  If, for example, the origin of your child’s nasty behavior has to do with being hungry or tired, then obviously, you get them some food (preferably one with protein, that regulates low blood sugar like a piece of fruit with plain greek yogurt, or veggies and dip), or make sure they get some rest.  But what about when it is not a case of being hungry or tired?  What if your child is in perfect health and they are just being rotten toward you?  For young children, there is always distraction.  Below are some other ideas to help you motivate your child to turn their behavior around.  You may find one or a combination of several of them to be helpful.  I cannot give you the answer because our children are not cookie cutter kids.  Each child is different.  Also, keep in mind that it is unrealistic to believe that you can always fix things for your child and sometimes, just like with adults, kids are just going to be in a bad mood, and the goal is not to put them into a good mood but to teach that when you are in a bad mood you want to do the least damage possible to relationships.

  1. Empathy.  Empathy is when you let your child know you get how they feel.  It’s when you remember a time you felt pretty rotten even if it didn’t make sense and you realize that if your child is feeling that way it is because they do not realize at that moment that they have another choice.  Empathy does not mean telling a long story about when you felt the same way (a short one might work).  It means having a moment where you genuinely connect with the way your child is feeling and express that you know they are having a hard time.
  2. Remind your child that they have a choice other than feeling spiteful and spreading the feeling out toward others.  I detailed this technique in this post.  Reminding your child they have another choice does not include lecturing them about how great they have it and how they should feel better than they do.  When someone is stuck on the idea of feeling nasty, that lecture will have the opposite effect.
  3.  If you believe there is a bigger, underlying issue that has them feeling mean, then later, when they have cooled down, try having a conversation about what happened and be curious about where the behavior came from.  Think of saying something closer to, “Wow, I was worried about you earlier today when you said you hated me.  You must have been so angry.  Where did that come from?”  A curious tone during this conversation will work better than a disciplinary one.  This is especially true for children with attachment and trauma issues but it really works for all children.  After all, if someone comes at you with a “what is your problem?” attitude, how likely are you to let them into your inner world where you may be feeling pretty vulnerable?  I’m guessing someone expressing concern over your behavior is more likely to get, and keep, you talking than someone speaking to you in a judgmental tone.  For this conversation, try questions or comments that start with, “I wonder what,” “I was confused by,” and “I’m curious about,” over questions that start with “Why did you.”   This is a great conversation to have in the car alone with your child.  Cars give children the ability to process with you while you are not looking directly at them.  You can always pull the car over if the conversation turns into one that might be better off face to face.
  4. Teach your children how to treat you by modeling how you want to be treated when the nasties strike you- let’s not pretend that they don’t okay?  Tell kids you need to walk away for a minute before you say something you are sorry about, apologize for poor behavior on your part, let children know your mood is not about them (if it is not), avoid blaming in the midst of anger.  After your child has had a case of the nasties and you have debriefed them, tell them how you felt when they said or did what they said or did.  Suggest things that could help you feel better, and allow children to make amends when you are ready- sometimes that won’t be right away.
  5. Be an active listener.  What is your child really trying to say?  Are they telling you that they need more time with you?  Are they telling you that something is scary for them?  State your belief to them, “I know you are so disappointed you can’t go to your friends party and you think I don’t understand how hard that is for you.”  You might be amazed at what just saying something that shows you are listening can do.  After all, if your child wants something and you ignored them, it would be a very rare occasion for them to just walk away without trying to repeat the request, usually at increasing volume until they feel heard.  The older children get, the more they really want to be heard and you can show them you are listening by saying back what you heard.  Sometimes you may find what you thought you heard was not what they were trying to say at all.  Wonderful!  By saying what you thought you heard and finding you were wrong, you get to know your child even better.  Harvey Karp from “Happiest Toddler On the Block” suggests getting on your child’s level and matching their intensity with their voice and even their facial expression while you tell them what you are hearing.  I have seen this snap a teenager out of a tantrum as well.  After you have addressed the message, and your child has calmed down you can have the discussion about how they can tell you differently next time.
  6. Try to use the suggestions from my post Trash Your Behavioral Charts! by making a chart for yourself where you earn points by handling your child’s nasty behavior so you can go out and take care of yourself.
  7. Getting your child on a regular exercise routine doing something they enjoy and making sure they are eating a healthy diet are both wonderful overall approaches for avoiding the nasty behavior in the first place.
  8. Another approach could be to catch your child off guard.  If you know your child is getting ready to throw a tantrum, calmly observe that you are expecting them to throw a tantrum.  After all, if they are angry with you, they do not want you to be right about them, they may stop themselves just to spite you.

By making these suggestions, I want to be clear that my motive is to help you and your child get through the nasty behavior with the fewest regrets possible.  I am not suggesting that the interventions I have recommended need to be the end of the discipline.  In some cases they will be and others they will not depending on how far the behavior goes with your child and what your parental beliefs about discipline are.  I also want to make sure you know that I believe whole-heartedly both as a clinician and a parent that we must be allowed to show negative emotion.  My suggestion is not to thwart negative emotions, it is to suggest meaningful alternatives to behaviors that can be associated with anger, jealousy, frustration, irritation, etc.  What are some ways you have ended the nasties?

August 2, 2012 - Posted by | child development, discipline, help for parents

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