How to Respond to your Distressed Child


22 Sep
22Sep

Dear Heart to Heart Family:

Many parents are requesting help with making what we call Reflective statement to reduce the amount or intensity of dysregulation.

Using Reflective Statements are Helpful when your Child is Distressed:

 

            Imagine your child is in the middle of a tantrum – You are about to leave the house and your child is in tears.  You are at a loss as to what made your child escalate so quickly and how you could have prevented such a meltdown.  If you are like most parents, this scene is probably not too hard to imagine.  You also may be wondering, what can be done to fix this scenario.  

            Let’s look at an example to see what events led up to one child’s tantrum.  Five minutes before little Jonny’s meltdown his mom told him to put his shoes on while she changed his baby sister’s diaper.  Jonny was just about to finish his TV show.  He only had a few minutes left before the show was finished and he was mad he had to stop it early.  He then stomped over to his shoes only to find that his laces had a knot in them.  He tugged on the knot which only made it worse.  It is at this time that his mom came back into the room and saw Jonny was not ready to go.  Her first thoughts are - now we are going to be late and why is it so hard to just put on shoes.  She feels overwhelmed and in the moment yells “Come on, we are going to be late, put your shoes on!”  This sends Jonny over the edge and now he is in tears.  

            Let’s rewind the scene a little and explore some places where Jonny’s mom could use reflective statements.  First, when Jonny’s mom notices he is mad because he doesn’t get to watch the rest of his TV show, she says “You really wanted to finish watching your show. You like watching this show and are disappointed you do not get to see the whole thing right now.”  Jonny replies “Yeah, this is my favorite episode and the ending is the best part.”  Jonny’s mom then reminds him that he can finish watching the show next time he watches TV.  Reflective statements help Jonny feel understood and he is better able to transition into his next task.  Then when Jonny’s mom finds him struggling with his shoes, she sits down next to him and says, “I can see you worked hard to try to get the knot out yourself, it is really stuck isn’t it.” Jonny kicks the shoe and mumbles “mmmhhhhmmm, I couldn’t do it.” Jonny’s mom replies, “While I was changing your sister’s diaper, you really needed my help to get the knot out of these shoes.”  Jonny looks up and says “Yeah.”  Mom responds with “Now that I am here, let’s look at the knot together.”  These reflective statements validate Jonny’s experience of trying to fix his shoes but needing help.  The way Jonny’s mom responds this time also allows for Jonny and her to have a conversation about what is bothering Jonny and resolve the situation together.  

            While it is not a guarantee that a tantrum will be avoided after you use reflective statements, it can definitely deescalate situations, help your child feel understood, and strengthen your connection with each other.  One goal of reflective statements is to reflect what a person is feeling.  For example, “You are feeling frustrated, or I can see you are disappointed.”  Putting a name to an emotion, helps children learn to identify, label, and accept their feelings.  Another goal of reflective statements is to validate a person’s experiences.  For instance, “You wanted to keep watching that show or You tried hard to figure that out by yourself.”  By reflecting what has happened, the individual feels understood and validated. A third goal of reflective statements is to create connections.  By getting down on the same level as a child and verbally (as well as physically) saying “I am here for you,” it strengthens the bond of your relationship together. It is also important to remember that parenting moments like using reflective statements is not something that can be rushed.  It can be hard to stop and take the time to effectively reflect and connect to your child, especially when you are dealing with outside time constraints.  On the other hand, dealing with a full-blown tantrum can take just as long if not longer than if you were to pause and use reflective statements along the way.  In addition, when you first start using reflective statements, it may feel unnatural.  You may not be used to talking this way or you may not have had many experiences of being on the receiving end of reflective statements.  However, the more you use reflective statements and look for the moments to use them in, the easier and more natural it will feel. The hard work that you put in up front, will be worth it – You can do it! 

 Reflective Statement Prompts:

·        You really wanted…

·        You needed…

·        You feel…

·        You worked hard to…

·        You wished that…

 

~Tasha Lehner MA

Comments
* The email will not be published on the website.