Helping your child through a freak-out that has been caused by a compromised state includes juggling between finding a way to reduce the compromise and handling the melt-down. Being "compromised" means when a child is upset due to hunger, thirst, sleepiness, lack of rest, or overstimulation.
The trick is to identify what is compromising the child and sneak in a solution to that weakened state, while at the same time not activating a power struggle.
Parents can calm their child by quietly stimulating the body’s natural calm-down process and feeding the missing need. While doing this, stay away from asking questions like, “Are you hungry?” or “Are you tired?” or “Are you angry," which often stir frustration.
Here are some ideas to fulfilling your child’s needs when they are upset.
Try any one of these:
1. Quietly set food out nearby. Stay away from junk food, so that there isn’t a link made between processed food and feeling better. I recommend cutting fresh fruit or vegetables into interesting shapes or place them in a smiley face on the plate. Don’t say anything!
2. Put the smiling-fruit plate at your spot on the table, smile, wink, and say, “That’s for me—don’t be a food stealer!”
3. Put some of the food in a bowl, sit down near your child, and place the bowl on the floor between you and the child. Quietly eat a few of the fruit/veggie pieces.
Put some water in an interesting glass that your child doesn’t get to use regularly (or use a funky straw). Maybe go buy a cool plastic cup for this use if you aren’t sure your child is going to be able to stop him/herself from throwing it. As with the food, quietly set the glass out near the child. You can try asking, “This is for you, but it looks so fun—can I have some?”
If your child is in dire need of a nap or has been pushed too far past bedtime and has become “squirrelly,” keep your focus on staying calm and being clever. You know your child needs to sleep—your challenge is to find a way to get him or her horizontal, and in one piece.
This is the time to let go of trying to get your child changed into pyjamas or his teeth brushed, focusing rather on shutting down the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which is responsible for activating your child’s fight-or-flight response.
Here are a few tricks that can help turn the SNS switch off:
If your child isn’t calm enough to be inverted, do “lines,” or “squeezes,” and is frantic, as long as he or she doesn’t feel trapped, you can try lifting him onto a bed or couch, to lie with him until calm. When your child just can’t self-regulate, his parent needs to start the regulation for him.
When my youngest son experiences this, I wrap my arms around his body as I lower us both down onto his bed. When there, I hold with one arm, get the other one doing “lines,” breath slowly onto his face, and touch our foreheads together. He’ll scream or whimper just briefly, and then I can feel his body relax. As it relaxes, I release my hold on him. I also think about things I am grateful for during these moments, so I keep my own self-talk under control.
Ways to sneak in some rest time are to quietly pick up your child’s favourite book and start reading it on the sofa. You could also pick out a puzzle or building toy and start putting something together. Chances are good that your child will come over and join you. When he does, offer a hand on the shoulder to recognize the positive choice he just made. Continue to use a soft tone in your voice while you read or play.
Going for a ride or walk in the fresh air also helps children relax. To pull down power struggles, offer a choice like, “We are going for a walk. Do you want to sit in the wagon or stroller?” or “It is outside time, do you want to ride in the bike trailer or sit in the wagon/stroller?” If you want to use a certain vehicle, still offer some kind of choice like, “How many stuffies would you like to bring in the stroller? Which ones?”
Reduce the stimulation in your child’s environment. Turn radios and all screens off (I do recommend not having any TVs on during the day when children are home). If there are a lot of loud sounds coming from outside, put a white-noise machine or fan on if those sounds seem to have pushed your child over the edge.
If your child is playing with others, gently scoop him up and take him to an area where the two of you can be alone, even just for ten minutes. While there, offer some water if it is handy.
I know it can be very hard to stay calm when your child is not, but if you can do so, your emotional state will positively affect your child’s. I wrote more about how to do that in this article. I also post free parenting resources over on my Facebook page, and welcome you over there for more information.
I am routinely asked for specific parenting resources that cover the wide range of experiences parents can have. In order to make it easier to find these resources, I created a list of Facebook pages to share as needed.
I recommend pages that are current with research, tell stories that help us to be better parents, and provide concrete, useful parenting strategies. If one of your favourite pages is not on this list, I’d love to know about it—please put a link to it in the comments below.
Here are my go-to parenting Facebook pages:
ADHD: Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)
Adoption: Two mothers who write about their experience with adoption are the editor-in-chief of The New York Times Motherlode, K.J. Dell' Antonia and psychotherapist Kristen Howerton, also Adoption Council of Canada (The Motherlode doesn't have a FB page, so I linked their website.)
Allergies: Irritated By Allergies by Alexandria Durrell
Anxiety (in children): This psychotherapist has a book called THE FEAR FIX and writes about anxiety - Sarah Chana Radcliffe
Asperger’s Syndrome (Also called Asperger’s Disorder): Asperger Syndrome Awareness, Asperger's Society of Ontario
Attachment Parenting: Attachment Parenting International
Autism Spectrum Disorder: Autism Awareness, Autism Society of America, Personal Blogs: Other Side of the Coin--Autism Blog by Julie M Green, also the co-founder of Mabel's Labels, Julie Cole, writes about autism on their blog.
Death, Loss and Grieving: There are two mothers who have experienced significant loss and write about this. Heather Spohr lost her young child and writes about that among other topics on her blog, The Spohrs Are Multiplying. Also, Psychology Today writer, Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD lost her husband when her children were young, and beautifully writes about that on her personal page: Roots Of Action
Education: Little Pickle Press, Jessica Lahey, Teacher Tom
Learning Disabilities: National Center for Learning Disabilities, Reading Development and "Disability" Community
Mental Health: NIH National Institute of Mental Health, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Mental Health Awareness Australia
Nutrition/ Picky Eating: Sarah Remmer Nutrition Consulting, Today I Ate A Rainbow
Postpartum Depression: Postpartum Progress, Life With A Baby
Relationships: Kelly Flannigan Bos - Psychotherapist, The Gottman Institute
Same Sex Families (LGBTQ): Proud Parenting, LGBTQ Parenting Network
Special Needs: Love That Max, Parenting Special Needs Magazine
Sexuality Education (for kids and couples): Nadine Thornhill - Sexuality Educator
Travelling alone: Journeywoman
Travelling with children: Globetrotting Mama
This post lists all my favourite books and pages about parenting/ positive discipline/ behavioural issues: "My Favourite Parenting Things."
And MY page Andrea Nair - parenting educator for all things parenting.
As more parents re-enter the workforce fulltime after having babies, families are hiring nannies in response to an increase in the cost of childcare and decrease in the number of daycare spaces available, particularly in larger cities.
A significant percentage of these nannies are foreign workers, often from the Philippines, who leave their own children, homes, and husbands to come take care of families in North America.
As I read the novel BETWEEN by Angie Abdou, I thought more and more about the complicated dynamics that likely exist between a nanny and her employer. Abdou artfully develops the characters of the nanny (Ligaya) and mother (Vero) in their separate lives before they form an employer-employee relationship. Experiencing life through Ligaya’s eyes, I kept thinking, I can’t imagine what it would be like to leave my family and go across the world to take care of someone else’s. I just can’t.
Perhaps that thought is the main reason I opted out of hiring a foreign nanny, as many of my friends and neighbours had chosen to do. I remember one day when I looked at my friend through tear-stained, exhausted eyes while she beamed about the super meal her nanny had made for her that day.
I asked, “Your nanny cooks for you, too?” My friend smiled, saying, “I come home to a clean house, clean laundry, and supper on the table.” I stared at her, trying to reel in my intense jealousy. I also wondered how this nanny was able to take care of two small children and successfully maintain the home, when I was having a hard time doing the same!
Later that night, as my three-year-old’s wails woke up my baby right after he fell asleep, I whispered into my pillow, “This is not fair.” I secretly really wanted a nanny, but managed to tell myself that as a therapist and parenting educator, I would lose credibility if someone else took care of my children. I now see that way of thinking was not helpful.
At the time, I was also irrationally concerned about what others would think of me if I hired domestic help, as some mothers can be ruthlessly judgmental of each other. When I read this post by Julie Cole, co-founder of Mabel’s Labels—“A woman once commented that, ‘A nanny is raising your children and if you REALLY loved them, you’d quit your job and raise them yourself’”—I mistakenly thought I’d be less of a mother and create less secure attachment with my children if I allowed another woman to help me raise them. I now know both of those statements are NOT true.
It is possible to be a confident mother and raise securely attached children, while employing the help of a nanny.
While reading BETWEEN, being completely drawn in by Vero’s character, I was emotional as I read about her life as a mother of two boys and how the struggle of adjusting to life with young children was completely zapping her happiness. I’m sure that mothers of young children who read this book will feel validated.
As new mothers move away from their own mothers, aunties, and other family members who could help with child-rearing, and become isolated in communities where a good percentage of parents are not around during the day, as was Vero’s case, it is important to hire child-minding helpers if no other options are available.
Isolated parents have a higher chance of getting postpartum depression and maternal mental health problems if they are left to struggle with the big challenge of raising little ones alone. For those who do not have the financial means to hire a nanny, looking for other moms to do babysitting swaps or older neighbourhood children to watch the kids for a few hours are helpful options.
I asked the parents in my Facebook community to share their experiences with employing a nanny, and all the moms who commented had positive things to say. Many were happy their children could stay home and not have to be rushed out the door early in the morning, and others talked about how having the same, consistent person there to be with their children helped put them at ease.
I have heard of scary experiences with nannies in the media, and I see advertisements for “nanny-cams,” but believe that for the most part, controls are in place within nanny agencies to weed out those that use aggressive punishment with children.
The unbearable thought of how foreign nannies must feel leaving their own families, as the character Ligaya did, still bothered me, so I sat down with a nanny from the Philippines to learn more about her life. The woman I spoke with had worked for two years in Taiwan, as most nannies from her country do (they often work in China where their employment conditions are quite harsh), and had been employed in Canada for six years. She shared that she had to leave her home because of the conditions there, and left behind a three-year-old daughter and husband at the time.
This brave woman said, “Now that my daughter is older, she understands. I am a happy person. I’m very strong.” When I asked about the year she left, she said, “It was so hard. The first year was hard. The second, too. But now it’s not so hard. I remember that others are waiting in line to get what I have.”
As I spoke with her, I could see the strength and determination in her eyes. I imagine that if any of us had to leave our families for about ten years (her husband and daughter will be coming to Canada later this year) in order to make the rest of their lives so much better, we would do the same thing. This woman also clearly loves the little boy she takes care of, smiling while talking about him. I felt more at ease after speaking with her.
When considering if employing a nanny is good decision for you, visit with families who do have a nanny and consult with your local nanny-hiring agency. The book BETWEEN certainly opened my eyes to the benefits of having one, Vero’s unique challenges notwithstanding, and in retrospect, I think hiring more help would have been a good choice for me.
If you do have a nanny or are thinking of hiring one, I suggest reading my post on how to pass the attachment torch over to that person to foster positive development in your children.
And check out these 5 Things Every Parent Should Know When Hiring a Nanny.