Life’s Three Big Coping Skills

Our job is to teach you how to teach your child how to cope and problem-solve in smart, healthy and safe ways when she is upset  frustrated…lessons that will serve you both well your whole lives. Research has shown that when children are deprived of attention, they will do whatever they can to get it…particularly if they are frustrated or angry. Young children believe that they exist at the center of their universe and they demand the attention that position calls for.

In today’s wired, wireless, and multi-tasking world you will find it hard to give your child the attention she needs and deserves. Your child will try every trick she can muster to gain your attention and if those tricks fail, she will consider you irrelevant and your relationship with her becomes toxic because of the unhealthy physical reaction to the unrelenting stress she is experiencing. Therefore, give your child your undivided attention when you are together—being present with her in the moment–mindfully. Make eye contact, talk to her, listen to what she says, repeat her words and phrases, guide her play, and be a trusted companion. Turn off all electronic gadgets unless you’re using them to watch or listen to a program together and discuss it. Get down on the floor with your child so she can see your face—and know you’re there for her and her alone. Here’s a few tips for three easy, first steps to defuse the “fireworks”. Learn more in Discipline with Love and Limits.

1.) Think about how to meet both your agenda and your child’s

All children, especially young children, have tantrums, whine, and get upset when they don’t get what they want when they want it.

When these problems arise—and they will, we assure you—it is because your agenda and your child’s (or the babysitter’s or childcare provider’s and your child, etc.) don’t fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Parents want to have the power to be able to control their child so their own agenda can be met. Conflict develops when their child also seeks power and control to meet her own agenda.

For example, conflict will develop when you want your child to get dressed and her agenda is to play. You may want to exercise the power you believe you possess as a parent, but she wants to control her own agenda. Depending on the strength of what you’re telling yourself about the need for you to have the power in this situation, the conflict can escalate or it can be resolved.

So instead of telling yourself that you must have control, you can resolve this conflict by telling yourself that you don’t need to overpower your child to meet your own agenda. Just say, “I understand you want to continue playing instead of getting dressed. But we need to get ready to go to school, so I would like your cooperation.” This calmly validates your child’s agenda while letting him know about yours. You can also tell him, “When you get dressed, you may play until we need to leave. You are so good at getting yourself dressed.” By understanding your child’s needs and your own, you can resolve the power-control conflict and thereby gain his cooperation And when having any conversation with your child, get on his level physically so you can see each other. Talk to your child as an equal, the way you would to any adult you care about.

This calmly validates your child’s agenda while letting her know about yours. Use what we call Grandma’s Rule by telling her “When you get dressed, then you may play until we need to leave.”

By understanding both your and your child’s needs, you can resolve the power-control conflict and thereby gain your child’s cooperation.

Conflicts over agendas are major sources of stress for parents and young children. When these conflicts become chronic because an adult doesn’t resolve them with love and limits, they can trigger a harmful stress response that does not abate. This stress response can become toxic and damage your child’s emotional and physical health now and in the future.

2.) Increase your child’s ability to delay gratification

The research conducted with children to test their patience and ability to delay gratification is some of the most important we have seen. It has been found that the better a child is at delaying gratification, the better he functions at home, in school and in the community. And longitudinal research has found that a child who can delay gratification grows up to be an adult who is happy and successful. We will help you set loving limits for your child so that he can learn to wait for what he wants with his attention and effort focused on working to reach a goal rather than demanding the goal be immediately given.

Begin the process by practicing patience yourself. For example, when you’re stuck in traffic with your young child safely strapped in a car seat, don’t fume at a stoplight or yell at other drivers to hurry up. That sets the standard for your child when she wants something immediately. When you yell and fume, she learns from you that when she’s frustrated, anger is appropriate and yelling is coping. Those are two lessons you don’t want her to learn! Instead, model your ability to delay getting what you want and keep your frustration in check by saying “The traffic is really heavy today, but we can sing songs and make it fun while we’re waiting for the traffic to move.”

3.) Help build your child’s frustration tolerance

Take small steps like delaying delivery of what your child wants for a few seconds at first and then gradually extending the time until the payoff. This teaches her that what she wants will eventually be there. Talking to her while she waits will further build her frustration tolerance and give her words she can use to help herself in the future.

Saying things such as “When you have put the blocks in the box, you can get a snack,” (see Grandma’s Rule) tells your child that there is value in doing what needs to be done before doing what she would like. Longitudinal research has found that children who learn to delay gratification and tolerate frustration when they are young have better chances of becoming patient, trustworthy adults.