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The Only Effective Way to Talk With Children When They Are Acting Out

The Only Effective Way to Talk With Children When They Are Acting Out

Did you know that yelling at your child can cause just as much damage to them as hitting them? [1] The majority of parents resort to yelling, screaming, or simply raising their voices when they are trying to get a message through to their child who is acting out. They know that yelling isn’t the best way to parent, yet time and time again they find themselves raising their voice as it seems to be the fall back method to get their child to listen.

The Problem of Yelling: It’s Too Weak to Change a Child’s Behaviors

The problem with being a parent who makes it a habit of yelling, is that this tactic can be as damaging as hitting your child and the yelling often becomes ineffective, which is exemplified by parents who increase the volume of their yelling over time. Parents will raise their voices louder and louder, until it reaches a point where every time they go to correct their child they yell at maximum volume, as this has become the habit and way for getting any reaction out of the child. If the yelling has no consequences other than the yelling itself, most kids find this is not a strong enough deterrent or effective agent of change to permanently change their behavior.

An Effective Parenting Approach Can Be a Whisper With Prompt Results

Effective parenting uses a softer approach that not only communicates to the child on their level for greater understanding but also uses an approach that has immediate consequences that are consistently utilized.

There are ways of parenting that use a softer approach that actually get children to obey. If parents start using a “One Ask Approach”, they will find their children listen the first time they say things.[2] It isn’t magical though. It takes time and consistency. The child needs to understand that if they are given a warning and they still fail to obey then a consequence immediately follows.

Parents who are consistent with the follow through will see that over time they can even whisper the warning to their child and get effective and prompt results. Yelling is not efffective in the long run. However, since yelling is the most habitually used parenting tactic when children act out, the one ask approach needs to be better understood and practiced by parents in order to reduce their habit of yelling.

Use the “One Ask Approach”

The one ask approach is simply a method of parenting that involves warning your child only once and if they don’t alter their behavior the consequence/punishment immediately follows. There are three basic steps for a parent to follow:

1. When the child does something wrong, they are told only once how and why their behavior needs to change or there will be a specific consequence.

For example, if your child is jumping on their bed you simply state “you need to stop jumping on your bed by the count of 3 because I don’t want you to fall off the bed and get hurt. If you don’t stop jumping by the count of 3 you will be put in time out for 5 minutes”. This warning is only said once and is said in a calm yet firm tone. No yelling or raising of voices is involved.

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2. Thank the child for listening; don’t give multiple warnings if they don’t listen.

If the child stops the behavior, commend them and say thank you for listening. If they don’t stop, you do not give another warning, or multiple warnings as this will become what they expect, so they will not listen the first time. If they failed to follow instructions, it is time to immediately follow through on the consequence.

3. Talk with the child on their level following the punishment.

The level of the offense determines the level of discussion needed. If it is for jumping on the bed, you can simply express to your child on their level that you would be very sad if they fell off the bed and got hurt. You have these rules to protect them because you love them.

Being consistent with your words and actions will help your child learn that you mean business when you speak to them about their behavior.

The warnings have to include very specific and realistic consequences for their actions. If they know you won’t follow through, for example, by threatening to let them out of the car on the side of the freeway, then they likely won’t change their behavior because the threat is not valid. Use realistic threats and consequences you can follow through with immediately. Time outs and taking away privileges are the most often utilized effective threats and consequences. These are the easist for parents to implement as well.

Behavioral change happens in the heart to make the change permanent.

There are key components to talking with your child to help them understand their behavior issues in their heart and not just in their mind. After all, if they are just acting robotically because of fear of consequence, then their mindset has not changed. Parents need to get to the root and core of the problem. That way the child’s heart is affected and they understand their need for change emotionally (heart) and intellectually (mind). Here are some tips of doing just that:

Get on Their Level

If you are preaching down to your child, your message is likely to go over their head or in one ear and out the other. They don’t want to tune into your message if you are towering over them, shaking your finger, and using a stern or harsh voice (even if you aren’t yelling). To communicate with your child, here are 7 ways to speak so they listen and take the message to heart.

1. Physically get on their level.

Crouch down or sit down on the ground in front of your child so that you are at eye level. Use eye contact while speaking so can connect. It is a powerful tool in human communication that we, as parents, often take for granted. Look your child in the eyes so they know they matter and that you are serious about the conversation.

2. Use their name.

Make it personal. Use their first name when speaking to them, so they know it is about them and not anyone else around. Be sure to maintain that eye contact as you say their name and focus on them only.

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3. Use a softer approach.

Compassion is what is needed when you really want to yell at your child. What parents need to remember is that your child is just that, a child. They don’t have all of our life experience, wisdom, or working brain activity. They are still learning and growing, so speak with compassion and understanding recognizing that your three year old is acting like a year old, acceptable or not. When conveying your message use a softer tone of voice but one that is firm to convey that you mean while you are saying. Avoid yelling as it will cause your child to either shut down or to act out even further.

4. Keep the message simple.

Small children are not capable of understanding big words and big concepts. Keep your message simple and brief. They have short attention spans, so you will lose their attention if you drone on and on. Say what you need to say in a few brief sentences that a child can understand. Avoid big words and anything that is going to cause them to be confused about the issue.

4. Listen when they speak.

When you are getting on a child’s level to communicate, it should not be a one way street or it will just be preaching to them. Allow time for the child to respond to your words, to converse, and to actually listen intently to what they are saying. Remember that your ability to express yourself verbally is much greater than that child’s. Be understanding of the message they are trying to convey, as it may be the only way they know how to say it.

5. Use “I” statements and encourage the child to as well.

Start your statements with “I”. If you start off by saying “you are always hitting your brother” it is not as effective a saying “I am sad that you hit your brother”. Showing the emotional connection and how their actions affect others, including your own feelings is much more likely to affect the child’s heart than simply stating the offence.

Encourage your child to respond using “I” start as well. It creates less anamosity and playing the blame game when “I” statements are used. It is taking things from a personal perceptive, with responsibility for one’s own role in that situation. An example of this in day-to-day parenting is rather than yelling “get down from that table you are going to break it!”; Instead you speak calmly and say “please get off the table, I don’t want your to hurt yourself because that would make me sad”.

Using your feelings and “I” statements are much more effective in getting through to the child. Children have a much greater understanding of feelings than many adults realize. Children can relate to feelings, so it is important that parents express their own feelings so that a connection is made on their level when discussing a behavioral issue.

6. Show them you understand by paraphrasing their words.

It is great to do all those previous steps, but they are not helpful unless the child feels understood and heard. Show them you understand their perspective even if you may not always agree.

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Paraphrase their words back to them, that way they know you were listening. You can follow up with explanation if you feel their logic is wrong, but be sure to first repeat back to them what they said in a paraphrase, so they know their message got through to you. They are less likely to argue with your follow up parenting lesson if they know their side of the story and perspective was taken into consideration and understood.

The best way to show them you understood their message is to say it back. For example your child may say “I never get to ride on the scooter because Charlie is always hogging it”. You repeat back “you feel that Charlie is always on the scooter so you never get a turn to ride it”. Now you know this is incorrect because you saw her riding the scooter 10 minutes ago. You can follow up with that after your paraphrase, but perhaps it is then even better followed up with a discussion of setting up a timer so that each child gets equal time on this scooter.

Have the Child Put Themselves in Another’s Shoes

When dealing with issues where two children are involved, it is important that both children try to see the other’s perspective, especially the offending child.

When you get down on their level and speak to your child using the 7 tips listed above, you will find they are more willing to put themselves in another person’s shoes. Doing this gives them a perspective of other people and they are likely to show a lot more compassion.

Actively help them to think from another person’s perspective.

Compassion is something most of us learn over a lifetime, let’s give our kids a head start now by consistently and activity helping them to see the perspective of others by asking them to “put yourself in his/her shoes”. Don’t just ask them to do that though, make sure they respond with how they would feel if they were in that person’s position or situation. Processing of those thoughts is what causes the change in their mind and heart to commence.

For example, you take your kids to the park to play and they begin arguing over the same sand toy. One hits the other square on the mouth resulting in lots of screaming from the injured child. After you console and treat the injured child it’s time to calmly talk to the child who hit. The child says to you “he was playing with it long enough, it was my turn” and “he didn’t let me have it so I hit him because I was so mad”.

Now is the parents opportunity to say something like “how would you have felt if your brother hit you for not sharing”. They may say, “well he has” and then you follow up with, “it made you feel bad then didn’t it?” Of course they can relate back to being hit themselves and how it hurt them. Channeling their own past hurt will help them see how hurtful and wrong it was to hurt another person.

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Use a Policy of Apologizing and Forgiving

It is all well and good to communicate on your child’s level, have them relate to others by putting themselves in “him or her shoes”, but if they don’t learn to genuinely apologize and forgive, then their heart will never change. When they fail to apologize, grudges and hard feelings build up. They need to be taught this important life skill as part of their process to change bad behaviors and acting out.

Children don’t naturally have the inclination to apologize when they do wrong.

Kids tend to try to minimize or dimiss their responsibility in wrong doing, which is why apologizing does not come naturally. It’s human nature. We don’t come out of the womb with the ability to make our own beds, cook our own food, or brush our own teeth. We also aren’t born with the ability to ask for forgiveness. It is a skill that is taught. It is up to parents to teach their children to ask for forgiveness.

Communicating to your child in a way that they understand and take the message to heart begins by parental example first and foremost. From there it is about teaching the child lessons on their level and affecting their heart. If they only change their behavior to avoid punishment, then the change is likely temporary. Change that happens in the heart makes for permanent change. A soft and consistent approach makes that permanent change possible.

Teaching them to ask for forgiveness is more important than forcing them to apologize.

Teaching them to apologize and that asking for forgiveness for a specific action is far more important than forcing them to apologize when they have no understanding of their offense. This is why the steps 1-7 are so important. They help the child understand how their actions hurt the other person, by putting themselves in the other person’s shoes. Parents.com explains how we need to teach children to apologize instead of forcing the apology process:[3]

Experts explain what’s important is not simply saying the words but learning to take responsibility for a mistake. “Children this age may resist apologizing because they believe the mistake wasn’t their fault”….By breaking the apology process into a few steps you can help your child understand how her actions affect others and learn when to make amends.

There are a few additional ways parents can help children learn to apologize above and beyond helping the child recognize how they hurt others and then helping them find empathy for that person they offended by “getting in his or her shoes”. These things include being an example. This means apologizing to your spouse or partner and doing so in a way that your child can emulate, as you are their primary example for how to act in life.

Another aspect of the apology process that parents need to teach their children is to make amends.

They need to find a way to make it up to the person they hurt. For example, if your child breaks another child’s toy rather than telling them they need to buy a new toy to replace the broken one, you help lead them to that conclusion themselves. You can ask your child “what do you think you should do since you broke your friends toy and they really liked that toy?” Teach your child to find ways to become a thinker of how to make amends when they hurt others, as it is important in the forgiveness and apology process.

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

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Dr. Magdalena Battles

Doctor of Psychology

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Published on July 13, 2018

Striving Towards Secure Attachment: How to Restructure Your Thoughts

Striving Towards Secure Attachment: How to Restructure Your Thoughts

What if you could discover some tools and methods that could improve your relationships? What if by gaining a little knowledge you could understand your relationship dynamics better and give them a boost up?

By learning what secure attachment is and how to restructure your thoughts, you can become more self-aware of your relationship dynamics. After becoming more aware, you can then take a few steps to make them better than ever. That’s something that many of us could benefit from.

When we hear the term secure attachment, our mind typically goes to a relationship. And that’s exactly what it’s about.

In this article I’ll discuss the concept of secure attachments in more detail and how restructuring your thoughts can help you strive towards achieving better relationships.

Relationships are a hugely important part of our lives and whatever we can do to improve them is a good thing for everyone involved.

What is attachment theory?

Let’s do a quick overview of what attachment theory is. This will provide a good foundation for the rest of this article.

The esteemed psychologist John Bowlby first coined the term attachment theory in the late 60’s. Bowlby studied early childhood conditioning extensively and what he found was very interesting.

His research showed that when a very young child has a strong attachment to a caregiver, it provides the child with a sense of security and foundation. On the other hand when there isn’t a secure attachment, the child will expend a lot more developmental energy looking for security and stability.

The child without the secure attachment tends to become more fearful, timid and slow to explore new situations or their environment.

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When a strong attachment is developed in a child, he or she will be inclined to be more adventurous and seek out new experiences because they feel more secure. They know that whoever is watching out for them will be there if needed.

Bowlby’s colleague, Mary Ainsworth, took the theory further. She did extensive studies around infant-parent separations and provided a more formal framework for the differing attachment styles.

How attachment develops

Simply put, attachment is an emotional bond with another person. Attachment doesn’t have to go both ways, it can be one person feeling attached to another without it being reciprocated. Most of the time, it works between two people to one degree or another.

Attachment begins at a very young age. Over the history of time, when children were able to maintain a closer proximity to a caregiver that provided for them, a strong attachment was formed.

The initial thought was that the ability to provide food or nourishment to a child was the primary driver of a strong attachment.

It was then discovered that the primary drivers of attachment proved to be the parent/caregivers responsiveness to the child as well as the ability to nurture that child in a variety of ways. Things such as support, care, sustenance, and protection are all components of nurturing a child.

In essence a child forms a strong attachment when they feel that their caregiver is accessible and attentive and there if they need them; that the parent/caregiver will be there for them. If the child does not feel that the caregiver is there to help them when needed, they experience anxiety.

Different types of attachments

In children, 4 types of attachment styles have been identified. They are as follows:

  • Secure attachment – This is primarily marked by discomfort or distress when separated from caregivers and joy and security when the caregiver is back around the child. Even though the child initially feels agitated when the caregiver is no longer around, they feel confident they will return. The return of the parent or caregiver is met with positive emotions, the child prefers parents to strangers.
  • Ambivalent attachment – These children become very distressed when the parent or caregiver leaves. They feel they can’t rely on their caregiver for support when the need arises. Even though a child with ambivalent attachment may be agitated or confused when reunited with a parent or caregiver, they will cling to them.
  • Avoidant attachment – These kids typically avoid parents or caregivers. When they have a choice of being with the parent or not, they don’t seem to care one way or the other. Research has shown that this may be the result of neglectful caregivers.
  • Disorganized attachment – These children display a mix of disoriented behavior towards their caregiver. They may want them sometimes and other times they don’t. This is sometimes thought to be linked to inconsistent behavior from the parent or caregiver.

What attachments mean to adults

So the big question is how does this affect us in adulthood? Intuitively it makes sense that as a child, if we have someone who will be there when we need them, we feel secure. And on the other end of the spectrum, if we aren’t sure someone’s going to provide what we need when we need it, we may become more anxious and fearful.

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As an adult, we tend to wind up in one of three primary attachment types based on our childhood experiences. These are secure, avoidant, and anxious. Technically, there is a fourth one, anxious-avoidant, but it is quite a bit less common. They are described as follows:

  • Secure – When you have a secure attachment, you are comfortable displaying interest and affection towards another person but you’re also fine being alone and independent. Secure types are less apt to obsess over a relationship gone sour and handle being rejected easier. Secure types also tend to be better than other types with not starting relationships with people that might not be the best partners. They cut off the relationship quicker when they see things in a potential partner they don’t like. Secure attachment people make up the majority of the attachment types.
  • Anxious – Folks who have an anxious attachment style typically need a lot of reassurance from their partners. They have a much harder time being on their own and single than the other styles and fall into bad relationships more often. The anxious style represent about 20% of the population. It’s been shown that if anxious attachment styles learn how to communicate their needs better and learn to date secure partners, they can move towards the secure attachment style.
  • Avoidant – Avoidant attachment style represents approximately 25% of the population as adults. Avoidants many times have the hardest time in a relationship because they have a difficult time finding satisfaction. In general, they are uncomfortable with close relationships and intimacy and are quite independent. They are the lone wolf type person.
  • Anxious-avoidant – The anxious-avoidant style is relatively rare. It is composed of conflicting styles – they want to be close but at the same time push people away. They do things that push the people they are closest to away. Many times there can be a higher risk of depression or other mental health issues.

Here’s where it gets really interesting:

Move towards secure attachment

The good news is that it is possible to move from one style to another. Specifically, it is possible to move towards a more secure attachment style.

Now as you might imagine, this is not an easy or a quick process. Like any type of big change where you are attempting to alter such a deeply ingrained mindset, it takes a strong will to accomplish.

The first step is developing an awareness of your attachment style. The next step is to have the desire and drive to move your attachment style towards the more secure style.

If someone with an anxious or avoidant style has a long term relationship with a secure type, the anxious or avoidant person can slowly get brought up more towards a secure style.

The opposite is also true, they could bring the secure person more towards their attachment style. Therefore, you have to be conscious of your type and if you want to move more towards secure, it takes persistence.

Therapy is an option as well. Anxious types many times need to work on their self-esteem, avoidants on their connection specifically and compassion.

How to restructure your thoughts

Ready for the way to do it? Here we go:

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For the Avoidant Style

As with any type of change on such a deep level, the first step is awareness. Realize you have an avoidant style and be aware of it as you have interactions with your partner(s).

Try to work towards a place of mutual support and giving/taking. Try to lessen your need for complete self-reliance. Allow your partner to do some things that make you a little uncomfortable that you would normally do yourself.

Don’t always focus on the imperfections of your partner. We all have them, remind yourself of that.

Make yourself a list of the qualities that your partner has that you are thankful for.

Look for a secure style partner if at all possible, they would be good for you to be with.

If you have a tendency to end relationships before they go too far, be aware of that and let it develop further.

Get into the habit of accepting and even instigating physical touch. Tell yourself that it’s good for you to have some intimacy. Intimacy can help you feel safe and secure.

And over time you can realize that it’s okay to rely on other people.

For the Anxious Style

For the anxious style, the #1 thing to work on is learning to communicate needs better. This is a huge issue for the anxious style.

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First and foremost if you communicate your needs more clearly, you will have less anxiety, that’s already a big win. This will also allow you to better assess if a potential partner is good for you.

Try to bring your feelings more to the surface and most importantly, share them with your partner. Remember that secure attachments typically communicate pretty well, this is what you are working towards.

For the Anxious-Avoidant Style

The anxious-avoidant is a very small percentage of the attachment styles. Since this type tends to be anxious in the relationship AND more or less a loner, the key here is working hard to be very self-aware of your actions.

Use the parts of striving towards secure attachment from the anxious tips and the avoidant restructuring of your thoughts to consciously work towards being more secure.

When you find yourself pushing someone away, ask why. If you feel worried that your partner is going to leave you, again, ask yourself where this is coming from. Have they shown you any reason to believe this? Many times there is no real evidence. In that case, allow yourself to calm down and try not to obsess over it.

For the Secure Style

Since the goal is to move towards a more secure attachment style, there isn’t much needed here as you might imagine.

Something to be aware of is being in a relationship just because it’s “okay”. Don’t stay if it’s not a good place for you and your partner. If your partner is of an anxious or avoidant attachment style, stay mindful to not start developing characteristics of those styles.

Strive towards Secure Attachment

As we wrap things up, you’ve probably developed a good idea of the benefits of secure attachment. If you don’t currently have a secure attachment style, here are some benefits of restructuring your thoughts more towards this style:

  • Positive self esteem and self image
  • Close and well adjusted relationships
  • Sense of security in self and the world
  • Ability to be independent as well as in relationships
  • Optimistic outlook on life and yourself
  • Strong coping skills and strategies for relationships and life
  • Trust in self and others
  • Close, intimate relationships
  • Strong determination and problem solving skills

If you are an anxious or avoidant style or the combination of anxious-avoidant, it is possible to move towards a secure attachment style.

It takes self-awareness, patience and a strong desire to get close to being secure but it can be done. You will find that putting the effort into it will provide you with more open, honest and satisfying relationships.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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