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9 Things Parents Can Say to Defuse a Meltdown With Compassion

Of course you love your children, but aren't they just so good at pushing your buttons? It's easy to get frustrated when your children are demanding impossible requests or continue to do the one thing you asked them not to over and over. Thoughts may cross your mind such as, "I brought you into this world, I can take you out," (although you would never say that aloud). Your first reaction may be to raise your voice and punish your child, however this article will prepare you with 9 sayings to use when your child is having a meltdown that get the point across while still using compassion. 

It is important to reinforce connection, not separation. Vanessa Lapointe suggests "discipline without damage". Based off of science, and the way a child's brain develops, we want to build children who are hardy, not hardened. Children who are hardy have the ability to overcome to struggles of life, while children who are hardened cannot, and instead shut down using poor coping skills. Below are 9 sayings found on Lapointe's Disciple Cheat Sheet to help change the way you defuse a difficult situation with your child. 

1. Instead of: "What were you thinking?" 
Say: "I'm going to help you with this."

2. Instead of: "How many times do I have to tell you?"
Say: "I'm going to do (__) so that it will be easier for you." 

3. Instead of: "Stop it! You're embarrassing me!"
Say: "Let's go to a quieter place to get this sorted out."

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4. Instead of: "If you don't stop that, no Xbox for a week!"
Say: "I can see this is tricky for you. We're going to solve this later. Let's get a drink of water first."

5. Instead of: "Go to your room."
Say: "Come here, I've got you."

6. Instead of: "No stars on the star chart for you!"
Say: "Let's figure out a better way for next time."

7.  Instead of: "Stop. That. Right. NOW!"
Say: "If you need to get your mad out- then go ahead. It's okay. I've got you."

8. Instead of: *Silent eye-roll and frustration sigh*
Say: *Kindness in our eyes and compassionate hair tousle*

9. Instead of: "You are IMPOSSIBLE!"
Say: "We will get this figured out. I can handle ALL of you. It's all good."

The key to defusing a meltdown is to use different tactics from the Disciple Cheat Sheet. When your toddler does something, such as color on the wall, instead of yelling, begin by maintaining a calm voice and saying "You know we aren't supposed to color on the wall, let's get this cleaned up." If your toddler fights back, stay calm and move to another tactic, "I can see this is tricky for you, we're going to solve this later. Let's get a drink of water." It may take time, but eventually your child will calm down, and that is when you can show them how to get the color off of the wall. Your child still learns their actions have consequences, but you were able to get your point across without raising your voice. 

Children's brains have not developed impulse control, therefore no amount of yelling will change the brain's wiring. The phrases above work best for young children, but you can use the same idea of compassion to get your point across with older children and adults. When using these phrases, it is important to remain confident, all-knowing, and in charge, in order to avoid helicoptering your child. Although it may take time for the parent to refer to these phrases before getting frustrated, remember that "It's okay. I've got you," may be exactly what your child needs to hear. 

If you have questions about using compassion and the good affects it can have on you and your child or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact us. For more information on therapy, visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services

~Written by Allison Parker and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD

Reference: Porter, Evan. “9 Things Parents Can Say to Defuse a Meltdown with Compassion.”Upworthy, Cloud Tiger Media Inc., 21 July 2017.

Emotions of Children on the Autism Spectrum

Emotions of children on the autism spectrum are often hard to comprehend. It is important to help children not only identify an emotion, but also connect that emotion to a specific event. According to Alice Kassotaki, speech language pathologist MSc, BSc, there are four steps to identifying emotions.

  • -Step 1: Definition of the child’s emotion: “Nick, you look scared”.
  • -Step 2: Connection of the emotion while it is being expressed: “Maybe you are scared because this is a new game”.  
  • -Step 3: Confirmation that it is normal to have such an emotion: “It makes sense to be scared when you try something new for the first time”.
  • -Step 4: Reassurance: “Let me help you. It will be easier and less scary if we do it together”.  

There are many simple games that can be played to help children identify emotions. Mirroring emotions and having children guess how you are feeling is a great way to have them practice recognizing emotions. One a child has accomplished this step, they will later learn how other people think, and then eventually be able to connect how their feeling in regard to what they are doing.

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Children on the autism spectrum may have difficulties displaying empathy. However, during the transition period from early childhood to preschool age, children are able to gain some skills. For example:

  • verbal and nom-verbal characterization of the emotional expressions
  • use of emotional language to describe personal emotional experiences and to clarify others’ emotional experiences
  • development of knowledge about the rules of emotional expression and how various emotions can occur at the same time
  • gradual understanding of social emotions such as guilt

It is an important first step to understand one’s own emotions. Once this is achieved, identifying, understanding, and reacting to others’ emotions is crucial to building strong social skills. Misunderstanding social ques, such as non-verbal signs, can lead to miscommunication. A child may unknowingly misbehave because of the lack of understanding. This can often be avoided by teaching children specific emotions and reactions in the clearest way possible.

At a young age, 4 to 6, most children are able to understand the main emotions: joy, sadness, anger, and fear (think of the Disney movie, Inside Out). More complex emotions, such as pride, guilt, and shame, must be learned through the main emotions. Here are 7 ways to help children understand the complex emotions:

1.     Attention approach: some children must be taught to pay attention to social information. When you notice a child feeling a certain emotion, such as anger, state their emotion and why they are feeling that way while continuing to show nonverbal signals, such as crossed arms and stern voice.

2.     Naming the emotions: As a child begins to pay attention to social information, teach them the names of the emotions, starting with the main emotions. Using pictures of familiar faces with obvious emotions can help the child relate the name to the understanding of the emotion.

3.     Designation emotions: Once a child is able to look at a frown and identify that that person is sad, teach them how to designate each emotion. Ask questions such as “How does he feel?” to be able to designate different emotions

4.     Actions based on emotions: Now that the child is able to understand and designate each emotion, help them react based on emotions. Rather than looking at pictures, show them real life examples of emotion.

5.     Role-playing: Give the child different scenarios of receiving ice cream and feeling happy or losing a toy and feeling sad, allowing them to role-play and further identification and expression of emotions.

6.     Modeling (filming): When watching a movie or television show, point out characters’ emotions that the child will be able to relate to.

7.     Games and books: Playing board games and reading books are also great ways to help the child learn about others’ emotions in different situations. This is a way to turn learning into an interactive activity.

While this information is geared towards individuals on the autism spectrum, this same information about identifying and understanding emotions can be used to all children. 

 Contact us for more information on children on the autism spectrum, learning and expressing emotions, or for help with children who are struggling.

~Written by Allison Parker and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD

Reference: Kassotaki, Alice. (2017). “Emotions of Children on the Autism Spectrum.” Upbility.

Reducing Holiday Stress
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One of the best ways to continue living a balanced lifestyle is to reduce stress levels, especially during the holidays. Stress does not only ruin your holidays, but it's also bad for your health. Between shopping, baking, cleaning, and entertaining, we sometimes forget that the holidays are supposed to be a fun, relaxing time spent with family and friends. When stress reaches it's top peak, it can be hard to gather and regroup. Here are some practical tips to help you get through the holidays, stress free: 

1. Acknowledge your feelings- Just because it is holiday season, that does not mean you have to be jolly all the time. If you have lost a family member or are unable to be with loved ones this holiday, it is okay to feel sad and cry. Acknowledging how you are feeling and accepting it can make the hard times a little more bearable.

2. Reach out- If you are feeling lonely, reach out to your community. Volunteering is a great way to pass time while feeling better about yourself and broadening friendships amongst your community. 

3. Be realistic- As years go on and people grow older, it is hard to make holidays perfect and the same as last year. Although traditions are important, there is always room for change. If family members are unable to make it this year, reach out and celebrate in other was to continue the holiday festivities.  

4. Set aside differences-  Try to make the most out of the time you have to spend with people. Accept family and friends for who they are and pick a different time to talk about your problems. Remember that other people are suffering from holiday stress as well. 

5. Stick to a budget- Holidays are not about who spent the most money. Before you begin shopping,  decide on a realistic budget and stick to it. Use techniques such as homemade gifts or family gift exchanges to keep the cost low. 

6. Plan ahead- Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, and visiting friends. Plan out events first then make lists of what you need to avoid last minute scrambling. Reach out to friends and plan ahead for party prep and clean up. Through all the madness, don't forget to save time for yourself. 

7. Learn to say no- Saying yes to every event will only lead to more stress. Friends and family members will understand if you can't participate in everything. If you start to feel overwhelmed, prioritize and take something off of your list.  

8. Don't abandon healthy habits- Eating healthy, exercising, and appropriate amounts of sleeping are all still important even during the holidays. It's easy to get caught up in the sweets every now and then,  but don't forget to take care of yourself.   

9. Take a breather- Spending just 15 minutes alone without any distractions can make all the difference. Go for a walk, listen to music, or read a book are some healthy ways to distract yourself and help with self care.  

10. Seek professional help as needed-  Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. 

Effects of too much stress or chronic stress can exacerbate current problems or create more problems in life. The healthier your family is, the less difficult holidays are and the more enjoyable the holidays are. The more dysfunctional your family, the more important it is to have a survival plan. Use these tips to not only get through the holidays, but to get through everyday. 

If you have questions about stress and how it can affect you or your family's health or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact us. For more information on therapy, visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services

Written by Allison Parker and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD

Reference: Mayo Clinic Staff. “Tips for Coping with Holiday Stress.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Sept. 2017.

The Five Love Languages of Children, Part 7: Gifts

For the past six blog entries, I have explored and discussed the various ways in which children express, and hope to receive, love. According to authors Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell in their book “The Five Love Languages of Children,” there are five ways in which children view love: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. Please refer to the following articles to learn about the first three love languages:

Today, I will be discussing the fourth love language, gifts.

Many children like gifts and often enjoy the sensation that comes with receiving gifts. However, that does not mean that the child’s primary love language is gifts. For children whose primary love language is gifts, they will receive gifts in a different manner. Often times, these children will pay close to the details - was the gift wrapped? What kind of wrapping paper was used? Did it have a card? They will likely want the parent to be closely watching as these children open the gift and may make “ohhh” or “ahhh” sounds during the gift opening process. For these children, receiving gifts is about the experience and the connection between a parent and a child. Therefore, it is not about the gift, but creating a special moment with a parent.

It is especially important for a child that the gift is genuine. It is not uncommon for parents to give gifts as a reward. Many parents set-up reward charts for good behavior. For example, when a child gets a certain amount of stars, the reward is picking out a toy. This can be a great reward option for some families. However, this type of gift is different than giving a gift out of love. This gift is conditional (i.e. the child displays good behavior which is then rewarded with a gift) whereas a genuine gift may be seen more aligned with the idea “I thought of you today and I wanted to express that love.”

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Some parents may also provide children with gifts out of a parent’s own personal emotional distress. Most commonly, parents provide children with gifts out of guilt. For example, if a child does not see a parent frequently, gift giving may be a way for the parent to try to create a connection. Or maybe a parent is not affectionate and gives gifts to compensate for a lack of saying “I love you” or giving hugs. Maybe the parent and child got into a fight, and the parent’s gift can be seen as an “I’m sorry.” Once again, these gifts stem from a parent’s own discomfort. A parent may truly be attempting to express love to a child through this gift, however, children will pick-up on the non-verbal cues associated with the gift. During these times, it is not uncommon for the gift to lose all or any meaning to the child. 

As such, gifts should be given in combination of the other love languages. Make the gift-giving experience a moment to have quality time. Talk about the gift, ask the child questions about the gift, and take the time to answer the child’s questions about the gift. If genuine, tell the child “I love you” and give the child a hug during the gift giving process - all of these love languages combine to make the gift-giving moment truly special for the child.

Remember, giving gifts as an expression of love is seemingly a random act rather than an expected occurrence. Therefore, this type of gift giving is different than receiving gifts for holidays. In the love language of gifts is not about the size of the gift or how much the gift costs, but about showing an expression of love.

Come back next week as I discuss the last love language of children, acts of service.

If you have enjoyed reading these blog entries on the love languages of children and would like more specific information, therapy may be a great option to address specific concerns. Whether you are interested in individual therapy for yourself or your child, couples therapy, or family therapy, there are many options to create personalized goals for you and your family. For more information on therapy, you can visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services. If you would like to schedule an appointment, you can contact us at Hilber Psychological Services.