It really shouldn’t be this hard. All I want to do is take the dog for a walk and have some quality time with my daughter. Five minutes into it, she’s crying because her sock is slouched into her shoe. Then she’s yelling because sweat’s tickling her forehead. And because we’re walking too fast, and she’s about to die of thirst, and _____ (fill in the blank).
Suddenly my amnesia lifts and I remember that it’s often like this with her.
Being a compulsive optimist, I ignored this fact and invited her anyway. Being a mom who’s been known not to hit the restroom for most of a day managing life with 4 kids, I don’t understand getting overwhelmed by the little stuff. So I find myself asking the question I ask 5.1 minutes in to every walk with my daughter:
Why do I invite her?? How can we make this work for my sensitive kid?
Keep the main thing the main thing.
It’s easy to get embroiled in the 1001 issues a sensitive child has with any activity, but the point of the activity is what keeps us going. What is it you want from that time? What needs to happen?
When the goal is clear, the frustrations get diluted.
For me in the dog-walking case, it’s 1) get my kid and my dog (and, bonus, myself) some exercise, 2) have time one-on-one with my daughter away from the other kids.
Feed what you want to grow.
If we respond to a meltdown with big feelings and attention, we add to the overwhelm and encourage more of the same. But if we put our energy into recognizing positive words and behaviors, more of those will come. Yes, it’s tiring to actively seek the 1 positive moment amidst the barrage of negative ones… but which would you rather: feeling resentful of their negative behavior or feeling more positive as you focus on the good stuff? Happy people live longer, so I vote to focus on the positive.
Your child may be melting down, but you are still you. You’re still fun, energetic, spunky, creative and loving. You’re the parent who wants their child to enjoy time alone with you, to stay healthy with enough exercise, and to learn to delay gratification so that one day she’ll be able to pass her college classes, hold a job, and keep her marriage going in the tough seasons.
You’re up to the challenge you face with your child, so relax into that.
Give the behaviors another job.
Redirect the child’s sensitivity to something you know they like – a color, smell, feeling, memory, song, poem, rhyme or word game they like. Singing is my personal favorite, mostly because it keeps me calm as I breath regularly to belt out each verse. Any way you can help them get their mind on something calming is a great adaptive coping skill – for them and you!
Magnify the behavior.
If distraction doesn’t work, shine a floodlight on the behavior. Overreact. Throw your own tantrum right back. Make a big enough stink, and your absurd behavior will do two things: 1) stop your child in their tracks as they wonder how nuts their mom is, and 2) make you both laugh. Which reminds me…
Smile and laugh.
Did you know that smiling relieves stress in your face and neck, and changes your body’s chemistry? Or that laughter releases “happy” hormones – endorphins – that create a sense of well being? It’s why people instinctively laugh when they’re uncomfortable (or even in a grief-filled moment like a funeral). Just like having your own tantrum, laughing in the middle of your kid’s meltdown can turn the whole mood around.
You’re an expert too – you know your own child better than anyone. What works for your child when they get overwhelmed or start to melt down? To leave a comment from an email or feed, click here.
Did you know I coach parents of kids with special needs and behavioral challenges? Unlike parenting courses, coaching builds your confidence and joy as a parent, rather than simply amassing tools to use with your child. Need a shot in the arm like that today? Email me to set up your complimentary intro coaching session!
*These techniques are for kids in the normal range of behavior. Children with Sensory Processing Disorder, Autistic Spectrum conditions and other neurological issues need these combined with more specialized techniques and nutrition. If you have concerns that your child falls outside the normal range of development or behavior, contact your child’s doctor for an evaluation.