Your kids are curled up on the couch reading their new library books.
No one is bickering.
The silence is amazing. Your heart fills with love as you admire their sweet, innocent faces.
Fast forward ten minutes.
A fight breaks out over who has more of the blanket. You rush into the room, trying to help them make peace, but instead, your child yells and tells you to “get away!”
In this moment, your focus shifts.
Now, all you see is their behavior. All you can hear is the screaming, their hurtful words, their arguments.
And all you want to do is make it stop.
Unfortunately, one of your most powerful parenting strategies in these highly emotional moments is also one of the most difficult.
Love Past The Behavior
Loving past the behavior means offering your child your unconditional love regardless of their behavior. Showing your child that they are lovable even when they are struggling, frustrated or upset.
Here are some tips to Love Past the Behavior
- Get Calm – As the adult, it’s up to you to keep yourself calm. This is not easy. Do what you need to do; take a deep breath, repeat a positive mantra, focus on loving your child not punishing them. Take a break if you need one, but return to your child as soon as possible.
- Hold On – When your child shows big emotions, you need to be prepared. Helping your child calm down may take time. While you’re waiting, it might help to repeat something like, “It’s ok for him to feel angry” or “Frustration is normal for a toddler.”
- Reach Out – If your child likes physical affection, offer to give him a hug or snuggle. Rub his back or suggest that she give you a squeeze as “big as her anger.” If your child refuses, stay present and let them know that you’re ready to give a hug when they’re ready.
- Remind Gently – When your child is having a tantrum or is frustrated, they may be feeling out of control. Use a calm tone saying, “you’re safe” or “I’m here” or “It’s ok to be angry” or “It’s fine to cry.” You can also remind them, “I love you. Even when you’re mad.”
- Talk Later – People can’t think logically or rationally when they are in a highly charged emotional state. Resist the urge to ask, “why are you acting this way?” or “what’s the matter?” Instead, process the event later when everyone is calm.
- Stick With It – There are times when it seems like your presence or support isn’t making a difference. Or maybe you’re tired. Feel unsupported or frustrated. Those are all normal feelings. However, the message you send through this one parenting strategy speaks volumes to your child (even if they never acknowledge it): You are worthy of love.
Loving Past the Behavior means that you do NOT…
- Demand Compliance – I know it would be more convenient if your child stopped screaming, but standing over them with a wagging finger shouting is going to add fuel to the fire. Instead, use this “Get Low” strategy and follow the steps above.
- Give In – Be careful that you do not send your child a different message: “I will be with you in your frustration until I get tired of it, then I will give up and you can do/have whatever it is that you were demanding a few minutes ago.” Empathize with their struggle and hold a boundary.
- Isolate Your Child – Sending your child to their room to calm down sends the message, “I can’t stand to be with you when you’re feeling big emotions like this. Come back to me when you’re ready to be a nice, quiet, compliant child again.” Instead, try these alternatives to timeouts.
- Use Force – Some children need space to process their emotions. Respect their space by letting them know that you are “here when they are ready.” It’s hard to be patient, but yelling, “Settle down, already! I’m trying to give you a hug!” is not going to help.
- Be Abused – If your child’s behavior is dangerous to himself or others, or if it puts you in danger, you need to get yourself to safety or put things in place to keep your child or their siblings safe. You also do not need to allow yourself to listen to foul or demeaning language. Set limits such as, “You can be angry, and I will not let you kick me” or “I know you’re mad, and I will not let you swear at your sister.” Trust your gut, if you think your child’s behavior is extreme for their age or developmental stage, seek professional help.
- Go It Alone – For some of you, loving past the behavior really does seem impossible. In those cases, it’s time to find support. If you don’t have a co-parent who’s willing to tag-team with you, find a friend who is willing to be on-call via text or a neighbor who can watch your other kids for a few minutes. Seek help from a therapist or parent coach.
When your child is acting out, they are sending the message that they are feeling out-of-control. They do not have the skills or strategies to do better in this moment.
You do not have to love the behavior. You do not have to love being with them when they are throwing a tantrum. But, you do love your child.
Even when a fighting match breaks the glorious peace of children reading together.
What a powerful message.