This morning, my daughter was in a mood. Her cereal wasn't cold enough, her favorite pair of socks were dirty — her attitude started out bad and ended up nightmarish by the time I was trying to force a comb through her unruly hair. She screamed, I yelled. It wasn't my proudest parenting moment. In times like these, I find myself regretting my actions, and I wonder how I could have defused the situation before it devolved so severely. Maybe I needed a timeout. But, how do you know when you need to take a timeout with your child?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) noted in a recent report on discipline that our inability to step back when we encounter stressors might be related to a lack of knowledge on how our child's mind processes information. They wrote that "effective disciplinary techniques grow from an understanding of normal child development." The AAP noted that children are often easily agitated and tend to lash out because their brains are still developing the connections required to process and digest their feelings as well as what is happening around them. Parents have to set that foremost in their mind when dealing with their children, because often, their behavior is not as irrational as it seems when you understand that they do not have the coping mechanisms that we do.
I contacted the vice president of Kiddie Academy, Richard Peterson, to help determine how you know when you need to take a timeout with your child. Peterson has been in early childhood education for 20 years, not to mention that he's a father of four and grandfather of two. He tells Romper to be ready: "Advanced preparation is the key to coping when you need a break from your child on a challenging day." Know your child's habits, their triggers, and be observant so that you may understand when they are about to have a meltdown. Peterson notes that if you see a problem coming, and you feel yourself becoming irritated or angry, that you should try "changing the situation and environment to calm the situation for both yourself and your child. When you need a break, pull out an activity your child can work on independently, giving you time to calm down."
This is a strategy I'm normally much better at employing than I was this morning. With the time crunch of the morning looming over me like some sword of Damocles, I could not force myself into the mind space that would allow reason to intrude on my irrational thought. I could not allow her to sit quietly with her milk while I packed her lunch, even if I should have.
A recent study looking at the relationships between mothers and children noted that it is imperative that parents assess their own behavior as they assess that of their child, because there is a continuous reciprocal effect between the two. If you're getting keyed up, so will your child. If you can model calm behavior, your child will be affected by that calm. Note your heart rate. Is your jaw tight? Are your fists clenched? These can all be signs that you need to step back, take a deep breath, and redirect both of you. Maybe you get a snack, go through your grocery list, or play a ridiculous song on your phone. Whatever it takes to bring your emotions back to zero, and achieve some level of base calm.
After that is the best time to walk your child through the problems of their behavior, and you can use your own behavior modification as an example. Because if they see you chilling yourself out, they can intuit that it is also possible for them to calm down as well.