A little girl loved to play the swings at the park. As soon as she got to the park, she headed straight to the swings. Even though there's someone else on the swing, she was still excited to wait for her turn.
But who knew her wait would turn out to be more than 10 minutes.
She began to feel impatient and asked her mom:
"That girl is taking a long time. Is it my turn, yet? How come she's on the swing so long?"
There were two other children in line also complaining behind her.
The child's mom showed up.
"Hi sweetie, swinging is so much fun, right?" Mom stopped the swinging.
"Yup!" The child replied with a grin.
"Mommy understands. But there are many people waiting for their turn. It's time for us to get off. Okay?"
"But I don't wanna get off. I don't wanna!" The child began to protest.
"You are angry. C'mon, let's get off. Let's go play something else."
"No! I just want to swing." The child screamed and kicked her feet around.
"I understand that you're mad. Mommy understands. But..."
The other children eventually gave up waiting for the swing because this mother kneeled down before the swing as she empathized with her child's feelings and tried to convince her to take turns - that took another 10 minutes.
Did the mother get down to her child's level to talk?
Did the mother actively listen to her child's needs?
Did the mother empathized with her child's feelings?
Did the mother wait patiently for her child to calm down?
Yes to all.
But something just doesn't add up.
When we're dealing with our children's big emotions or temper tantrums, we need to observe closely our children's emotions in combination with their behaviors - are these just feelings or measures to get what they want.
All feelings are allowed, but when they're accompanied with one of these five behaviors, adult interventions should be taken immediately.
■ Harming self
■ Harming others
■ Negatively affecting others
■ Destruction of things or property
■ Using as a means to achieve a certain purpose
Just like the child mentioned above, her screaming and refusal to get off the swings not only have negatively affected others but also are used as a means to achieve the purpose of continuing on the swings.
What the parent could do is to first set a boundary for the child:
"You've been on the swings for a long time. It's time for you to get off. You can swing 10 more times, then it's other people's turn. Let's count together. 1-2-3-4-..."
If the child continues to scream or protest, it's imperative to stand your ground:
"If you can't get off the swing by yourself, then I will help you down."
If the child is still not willing to let go, action needs to be implemented immediately. This could mean that we remove the child away from the object in dispute, the swings.
After being removed from the swings, the child would undoubtedly protest and cry harder. This is the moment where we can stand on their side to accept their feelings and give our empathy.
"You must be very angry that I took you away from the swings."
"I understand that you still want to play on the swings."
"You are so sad that you can't play on the swings anymore."
"You're so upset and frustrated. I understand. It's okay to be angry. I'm right here with you. When you're ready, we can talk about it."
Yes, we need to accept and empathize our children's feelings. But before we respond "empathetically," THINK and OBSERVE the real reasons behind their tantrums - are the emotions displayed purely as an expression of how they feel or a means to an end?
■ Does the child tattletale in hopes that their brother or sister would be punished by the parents?
■ Does the child whine because they want to play on the phone?
■ Does the child throw a fit because they want their parents to buy a toy they can't have?
■ Does the child shed tears because they want to avoid a responsibility?
No emotions are categorically "bad," even the negative ones at an uncomfortable moment. All feelings should be accepted and empathized.
However, be on the lookout for when emotions are being used as a means. Help our children set healthy boundaries and practice proper social decorum is key to build character and integrity.
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