Setting limits can bring healing tears and tantrums
You can particularly expect an increase in defiance or even aggression at times of extra stress relating to changes. It’s important to express the limits that prevent aggressive or destructive behaviour, yet it doesn’t improve their behaviour or their emotional wellbeing if we’re harsh or punitive. In fact, usually the opposite is true because the more harsh a parent is, the more they give permission by way of modelling that it’s acceptable, be it yelling, forcing isolation, withholding “privileges”.
But how can a parent set limits while maintaining positive regard and respect for their child? When we express limits or remind our child once again of the tasks at hand, it’s our empathy and understanding of the big feelings that are driving their tendency to be oppositional which allows them to feel safe and secure and ultimately to move through their difficult feelings.
Because the child who has some smouldering feelings relating to anticipated or recent change is less likely to identify and express their feelings eloquently and more likely to show those feelings in generally anti-social behaviour, it’s very important that we give them extra emotional warmth and support at these times rather than becoming overly focused on the their grumpy demeanour.
It can help to remember that children don’t want to make our already stressful load even greater by making life difficult for us, they simply can’t manage big feelings without our emotional support.
Change can make a child very grumpy and parents can feel like they’re walking on egg shells avoiding giving requests or corrections in the hope of avoiding meltdowns. But in fact what often brings the child relief is when we stop trying to appease them and we control our urge to over-react to them, but instead hold any particular limit like “no” to t.v., sugary food, visiting friends, whatever they’ve become fixated on, then give our full attention as the inevitable meltdown allows their grumpy feelings to start to spill out.
Children try to escape uncomfortable feelings by grasping on to getting the things that they think will make them happy. But there’s a difference at such times between what they want and what they need. Although it’s good that children have lots of opportunities to negotiate and problem solve, these times when they’re containing a lot of frustration are the times that they need our help to gain some emotional release. When a child has a build up of frustration, they’re really not fit for complex communication and decision making. Only you as a parent (or caregiver) can attune to what your child really needs. So when you identify that your child’s all full of frustration, holding a limit with love. At times of holding a limit, our empathy gives them an opportunity for a safe outlet of frustration through their talking, venting, raging or crying while feeling sensitively heard and cared for.
Hold steady with a limit without bargaining or negotiating, but instead reiterate the limit with calmly confidence; “no my boy, I’m not going to put the t.v. on today” but remain very present and give them our full attention and empathy “and I can really really see how disappointed you are and I care. I’m here, I’m listening.” Showing your child that you understand and care about their feelings can often allow the child to work their way through feeling and offloading their disappointment and grief.
Stress releasing tears and venting. Our child can make the most of our emotional support and it often brings the stress releasing tears that helps them get lots of frustration out of their system. It’s often after a big meltdown that children find renewed energy to accept their new challenges. Listening to and allowing a child’s huge protests and upsets about the new baby for instance can feel heartbreaking, but it’s often after getting it all out that the same child will clearly show increased affection and patience for their baby sibling.