Ever had one of those days??
You know, when your emotional reserves are drained and the kids all seem to be on a hair trigger, ready to explode at the slightest provocation? The kind where everyone’s Dr. Jekyll has been replaced by Mr. Hyde? In the past, I would have thought a day like this could be turned around by sending everyone to their room for quiet time, but the reality of life with children from hard places makes that solution feel impossible. In fact, try telling me that I should send my kids to their rooms for ‘quiet time’ and I might actually burst into deranged, hysterical laughter while breathing into a paper bag. It could happen.
So what do we do when those rough days hit? My tendency is to bring down the proverbial hammer. I want to shut down the behaviours as quickly as possible. This, of course, is rarely effective. My experience has been that if I match their intensity, if I get louder and more forceful and give full vent to my righteous indignation anger, then things escalate quickly, usually leading to property damage and kids lashing out at me and each other. If I can stay calm and focus on discerning what my children need in that moment, I am much more likely to help get things back on track. I was recently re-watching TBRI for Teens and was reminded that when confronted with inappropriate behaviour, we have a choice: we can see it as misbehaviour and make rules, or we can view it as unmet needs and build relationship. It’s a good reminder that big behaviours mean big needs, and that I’ll be incapable of meeting those needs if I am disconnected from my children.
Here are a few key things I try to remember to do when my day takes a catastrophic turn:
Activate your support network.
Look at it as putting your oxygen mask on first (a concept I borrowed from Deborah Gray and discussed in my recent post on self-care)! For me, this looks like texting a friend or calling my husband. Often, just hearing Brian’s voice in my ear helps me feel calmer, and knowing that a friend is praying for me at that very moment strengthens me.
Be flexible with your expectations of how the day should go.
I really struggle to do this! I do not like it when things go differently than I anticipated and planned. However, if I continue to hold myself and the kids to a plan that is not going to give me the time needed to meet their needs, we’ll never get there anyway. In our house, things get derailed easily whenever we try to get everyone ready to leave the house. Luckily, our kids are all in school so we get to practice this on a very regular basis (cue the hysterical laughing and hyperventilating). Being a recovering people pleaser and rule-keeper, I don’t like checking the kids in late to school! But, I am learning to be more flexible with my expectations, and more gentle with myself and the kids. Sometimes, we all just need to press re-set and start over!
Try a little nurture shock!
It is all too easy for our kids to spiral down in fear, shame and despair when things aren’t going well. In moments of chaos and dysregulation, consequences and lectures will only confirm their suspicions that they are bad and we don’t love them. Sometimes the best thing you can do is throw a little grace at them. Suggest something completely different! It will likely get their attention, help them calm down, and help the two of you reconnect. I remember one particularly rough Saturday morning. Only one of the kids was out of bed, and we wanted the other two to sleep in a bit! The early riser was making a lot of noise and we were getting frustrated. In a moment of inspiration, Brian suggested that the two of them go out for breakfast together! It was like a switch flipped. Our child got their empty love tank filled, the rest of us got a bit of extra sleep, and we were able to carry on with our day on a firmer foundation of connection. Here are a few more examples of nurture shock that have helped us get out of negative downward spirals:
– Hand out suckers, gum, or a favourite snack/drink.
– Pull everyone together on the couch for story time.
– Offer to play a game, colour a picture, or do a craft together.
– Ask “Do you need a hug?”
– Blow bubbles.
– Re-direct the child by starting a discussion on a topic of special interest to them. For example, “What are you building in Minecraft these days?”
– Encourage the child to nurture a stuffy or a pet: “The dog looks a little scared by all the yelling – do you think you could pet him and help him calm down?”
Circle back and resolve the issue.
Once calm has been restored, it is very tempting to forget about the original issue altogether. Our goal, however, is to help our children learn healthier communication and coping skills. Once we have re-connected and we are all calmed down, we have the opportunity to go back, figure out what went wrong, and practice how we’d handle it better in the future. This might involve a physical re-do. Helping a child go back to the ‘scene of the crime’ and practice doing it right is a powerful tool for learning. Engaging their mind and their body will help increase their chances of getting it right in the future, and it gives us an opportunity to praise them for doing it the right way and end the interaction on a positive note. Resolving the issue can also mean offering apologies and forgiveness. Brian and I can usually identify at least one thing we did wrong, apologize to our child, and then ask them to apologize for a mistake they made. It might also be appropriate to ask the child to make restitution. Perhaps there is a mess to clean up or an act of kindness that can be done. Learning happens best when we are calm and connected!
We can turn really rough days into pretty good days if we remember to connect first, then correct!
We’d love to hear from you. What has worked in your home? How do you turn really rough days around?