Raising a child never has been an easy task, especially in today’s modern world. With increased exposure to the world, today’s children are becoming quite unmanageable. They throw tantrums, refuse to follow their parents’ instructions, emotionally blackmail, and even threaten their parents. They also fail to empathize with their parents, are usually too much engaged in self-love, and even terrorize or embarrass you until their parents give in to their unreasonable demands.
Ms. Amna Nawaz currently works as a clinical psychologist at Willing Ways, Lahore. She has done MS in clinical psychology and B.Sc (Hons.) from GC University, Lahore. Heath counseling, addiction counseling, subjective well-being, and intellectual disability are her areas of interest as well as her educational expertise. Earlier, she has also supervised trainee child psychologists working in a special education institute being run by the Government of Punjab.
On the other hand, parents are often seen to find excuses for the outrageousness of their children. Such disruptive children actually are the bullies but most parents do not see it that way. When parents lose all the powers to establish their authority, the essence of a parent-child relationship is ruined. The good news is that parents can reteach their children to follow discipline by setting certain boundaries.
It is established that surrendering, punishing, and negotiating with a disruptive child are the strategies that offer only a short-term relief to his bullying behaviors. They only manage the symptoms of emotional bullying on a temporary basis but it neither addresses the causes of bullying nor provides any long-term solution. Studies have suggested three vital behaviors that, if adopted by the parents, can help in dealing with a child’s emotional bullying effectively. These vital behaviors include de-escalating, validation, and praising.
Since our mirror neurons in the brain tend to mimic what we observe in our surroundings, we all learn shouting, yelling, screaming, name-calling, hitting, or frowning from each other, generating a chain reaction. Parents’ impulsive and emotional reactions to children’s disruptions usually escalate the tension and intensify the emotional bullying itself. It also exhausts the parents as well. Instead of wasting one’s emotional resources by yelling at, threatening, or punishing a disruptive child, parents must learn to de-escalate the ongoing conflict by maintaining emotional composure and practicing leadership in such crucial moments.
Instead of displaying knee-jerk reactions, parents must learn to stand firm on their stance without being overly dramatic. It involves hitting a “pause button”. Parents should take time out from a situation and give themselves and their children a chance to calm down as it is quite useless to reason out with your children in the moments when their emotions are escalated and intense; when they are frustrated and also non-receptive. They can sometimes get more frustrated if confronted logically during heated moments.
A time out from a situation can give a chance to both parents and children to assemble their thoughts and regain the emotional balance. Leaving the place of conflict for a while, going for a short walk, getting some fresh air, or sitting in some quiet place for a while can provide some time for both parties to calm themselves down. It is essential to find some peace in oneself before trying to make peace with your child. It is a smooth flow of thoughts that enables you to come up with effective solutions.
Another useful strategy to be adopted with a child who throws tantrums is to validate his feelings. Statements like “I understand that you’re frustrated. I am feeling the same too”; “I can see that you’re upset right now. Just give me a few minutes of quietness to think about it” or “Let’s have something to eat first. We’ll both feel better and then we will discuss it” are powerful sources of emotional validation. Children usually respond quite positively when parents acknowledge their feeling. It instantly calms them down.
Once you take a break from the situation, try to figure out the causes of your child’s disruptive behavior e.g. emotional bullying can be his way of seeking attention, he might feel neglected, hungry, tired, sleepy, sad, etc. A child’s emotional bullying is always an effect, it has some underlying causes that need to be considered and addressed. It is always helpful to encourage your child to speak his heart out and share what makes him so irritable. Once he opens up, do validate his feelings instead of snubbing, rejecting, making fun of, trivializing, or negating his feelings. Effective and mature communication can defuse your child’s frustration and help him to reframe the entire situation.
Additionally, parents should always prefer meeting their children’s needs instead of their wants during such crucial moments. Wants usually emerge from unmet needs, so when a child wants something, you must figure out the underlying need which is left unmet. Effective communication also helps your child to understand his true feeling, whereas, strategies like punishing or surrendering cannot provide this opportunity to children. It is also important to make it very clear to your child that emotional bullying or temper tantrums are not acceptable at all. Once, parents establish that they won’t give in to a child’s unreasonable behaviors, it is important to remain firm on their stance and do not back off. Making huge statements and not following through turn out to be a big blow to parents’ writ against their children.
The third vital behavior is about praising a child’s progress. After setting boundaries with the child, parents must learn the art of appreciation and encouragement of the child’s positive behaviors. The encouraging statements like “I appreciate the way you are talking to me right now”; “I’m proud of the way you have just expressed yourself” or “You’re doing a great job, and it makes me so happy, keep it up!” can work wonders in reinforcing child’s desirable behaviors. It can also boost his self-confidence and make effective communication comparatively more rewarding for him.