Grooming an irritable child or adolescent is like holding a hot potato, right? But you can’t quite drop it! So how can you really sooth your child, take care of yourself, feel that you are doing all that you can- in a fail proof way, and keep moving forward? To be honest with you, there are no super natural tricks to achieve all of these aims. That said, there is a solid framework to keep in mind. If you tick off each point I list below, you are golden. By that, I mean that you can only do what you can and feel confident that things will shape nicely with time. Almost always, things work out just fine.
Here is the bottom-line.
- Projective Identification. I repeat this concept all the time. WE love our kids, but we need to offer the specifics of what we appreciate periodically (so as to not annoy and sound like a broken record, or dish out praise too easily say when they eat breakfast or flush their toilet). They live into our vision. It is all very genuine.
- Be in the Zen mode. When they scream, you cannot rationalize, give immediate feedback (not in detail anyway) and they need to calm down. You may as well chill and look after yourself so that your blood pressure does not hike up. Lot of parents ask if I do this myself. Yes, I do for the most part. What helped me is practice! Look sad if you need to, as you face your child, let them feel a bit of guilt as it is good motivation. But you don’t need to participate a great deal in chaos all the time, trying to fix. Protect yourself, stay sane as that helps to pull yourself together. No point in losing the cool. Kids want to see you suffer if they provoke. I know. But you can break the cycle to it. Put a coma, say something brief (I know you do not like this, I know we can do this, I know you are hungry and so on), but do not put a period (i.e., not saying anything at all as it would irritate them way too much).
- Teach them when in good mood. Timing is everything. Explain that parental guidance is a luxury and how no one looking out for them is a scary prospect like an orphan! Say that they are everything for you and pepper some good values and teach them your expectations when in good mood.
- Connect the dots of good deeds. Often, they do a lot of small good stuff. Do not forget and route back to telling them all that you noted, the string of good deeds. Keep score of all that is going well. That is like currency to buy more good behavior. Some behaviorists call this “Catch them being good.”
- Reduce marital conflict. Usually one parent is logical (I am not saying it is mom or dad) and the other parent is anxious and driven to being a bit critical of the child. This leads to the so called logical parent to protect the child and take the side of the child momentarily. This generates marital conflict. Be cognizant of this dynamic. Stay together with spouse, and manage the spouse and explain what would be awesome- say requesting them to almost act like “grand father or grand mother.” By that, I mean being kind, directive, respectful and loving with no inherent judgment. Be a role model in behavior. Reboot your relationship to being awesome and do not stay stuck in conflict. More on “Rebooting” soon in another article!
- Respect. Are you really respecting? Using the dignified tone like you use to speak to the next door neighbor or sounding demanding instead? Are you patronizing? Rethink. If only we can be a bit detached and treat our kids like next door neighbor without ruffling your feathers. We can try, in small proportions at least! Yes you can!
- Pick up the clues to know when to switch off. I say, never touch an angry kid and start suggesting this or that. It is like touching a fire. Or a dirty-something. It is not safe or pleasant. Give space. Get the clues to not keep at tirading at them. You can’t kick the cat too much, right?! Develop compassion.
- Report positive news. In the ear shot of our kids, it is great to brag to grand parents and your best friends how amazing your kids have been. That is useful strategy.
- Cognitive or thinking tasks divert one from being over emotional. Research backs the idea that thinking tasks such as solving a puzzle, reading or engaging in any types of games will divert the attention from emotional outbursts.
- Mundane, not so personal conversations. Sometimes talking about regular things like what you saw on the street or politics or news or fashion- just to name a few- can help simmer down too much investment and focus on emotionally intense topics. Don’t always bug them. Give them space.
- Problem solve. There are hard things to negotiate like learning disorders. They need to be solved to reduce frustration.
- Protect to be on their side. While not treating them like a baby, you can often take their side to protect them, understand their issues, and build trust. In other words, you have their back. You speak about what you feel and think positively. In reality, there are difficult teachers, friends or relatives. They can be irritants, in addition to you being perceived as a trigger! Understand and support. Call spade a spade sometimes!
- Quality time. Try to find the best times with your child. Build memories.
You cannot fix irritability in one day, but it is a process to put money in the emotional bank, slowly tame the irritability, reduce underlying anxiety, and build the sense of safety and oomph.