Managing Your Own Emotions: The Key to Positive, Effective Parenting
By Claire Lerner
This article discusses the influence parental reactions have on young children’s behavior and provides guidance on ways to respond that help children calm more easily and learn better coping skills.
Being the parent of a young child is an intensely emotional experience. There is the pure pleasure of cuddling, nuzzling, playing, laughing, exploring, and delighting in your baby’s daily growth and discoveries. And then there are the challenges—the moments of stress, anger, frustration, and resentment—at not knowing what a baby’s cry means and how to calm her, at the totally irrational demands of a toddler, or at the aggressive behavior of an older child toward a new baby. These experiences naturally evoke strong feelings that can be hard to handle.
But it is important to tune in to and manage these feelings because it is how you react in these moments that makes the difference in your child’s development. Your response impacts his ability to learn good coping skills and guides his future behavior. Imagine a 2-year-old who is falling apart because he can’t cope with the fact that you gave him his cereal in the blue bowl instead of his favorite red bowl (as unbelievably irrational as that might be— such is life with a toddler). Reacting with anger and frustration is likely to further distress the child rather than help him calm and cope. Learning to manage your own reactions is one of most important ways you can reduce your own—and your child’s—distress. It also teaches children how to manage their own emotions—a skill that helps them do better in school and in building friendships and other relationships as they grow.
Managing strong, negative emotions is surely much easier said than done. But it’s worth the effort, because the payoff is huge, for you and your child. Here are some helpful guiding principles and strategies:
Tune in to your feelings.
Feelings are not right or wrong. It is what you do with your feelings that can be helpful or hurtful. What’s most important is that you tune in to and own your feelings so that you can make a conscious decision—versus a knee-jerk reaction—about how best to respond.
Look at behavior in the context of your child’s development and temperament.
Having appropriate expectations is critical because the meaning you assign to your child’s behavior impacts how you manage your own emotions and reactions to the behavior at hand. If you see the behavior as manipulative, or to be purposefully hurtful (i.e., biting, hitting), then you are more likely to react in ways that escalate instead of calm your child. And intense, angry reactions rarely result in teaching good coping skills. If, instead, you see these behaviors in the context of normal development, then you can approach your child with empathy, making it much more likely you will respond calmly and effectively.
Remember: You can’t make your child do anything— eat, sleep, pee, poop, talk, or stop having a tantrum.
What you do have control over is how you respond to your children’s actions, as this is what guides and shapes their behavior. If throwing a tantrum results in extra TV time, a later bedtime, or simply getting more of your attention (a primary goal for older siblings dealing with major rivalry), your toddler is putting 2 and 2 together, making an important assessment: “Tantrums work! Excellent strategy! Put that one in the win column.”
Putting It All Together
Three-year-old Jonah announces to his mother, Lauren, “You are the meanest mommy, and I hate you”, and then kicks her after Lauren tells him that the playdate is over—it’s time for Liam to go home.
Step 1—Tune in to your feelings:
Lauren is feeling furious and wants to say: “You are the most ungrateful child ever! Liam has been here for 2 hours and I have put aside everything I needed to do to supervise, make cookies with you, set up the painting project, etc., etc. It’s never enough!” But she knows reacting angrily will not teach her child anything and will just increase both of their distress. She takes some deep breaths and thinks through how to respond to help Jonah learn to manage his strong emotions and accept the limit.
Step 2—Tune in to and validate your child:
This is where having appropriate expectations comes in. Lauren reminds herself that at 3, children are still largely driven by their emotions and that the goal is to help Jonah learn to cope with life’s frustrations and disappointments. So she tells him calmly, “I know you are sad and angry that Liam has to go home. You have so much fun playing with him. It is always hard when a playdate ends. But you will be okay.” It is very important to communicate that you have confidence that your child can handle his difficult feelings. When you swoop in to make it all better, you inadvertently send the message that he can’t handle disappointment, which makes it less likely he will learn this important skill.
Step 3—If your child throws out some bait, don’t take it:
Young children will use any strategy possible to get what they want, such as more TV time or extra dessert, or to avoid doing something they don’t like, such as getting dressed in the morning or brushing their teeth. The best way to eliminate behaviors you feel will not serve your child well in the real world is to ignore them. So in this case, it means Lauren not responding to Jonah’s provocation, “You are the meanest mommy…” She doesn’t allow it to divert attention from the limit she is setting, which is usually the goal of throwing out some bait— to control other’s actions and avoid something the child is uncomfortable with.
Step 4—Set the limit and provide choices:
“It’s okay to be sad and angry, but it’s not okay to kick. Kicking hurts. I know you don’t want to hurt me, you’re just having a hard time controlling your body because you are so upset. So your choice is to take a break where you can calm your mind and body, or you can come help put the carrots into the salad for dinner.” If Jonah can’t yet pull himself together, Lauren will just move on, showing him with her actions that she can tolerate his being unhappy and disappointed, and that she trusts he has the ability to calm himself. This leaves Jonah with the choice to stay upset or pull himself together and hang out with his mom.
Managing your own emotions helps you feel more in control and frees you to respond to even the most challenging behaviors calmly and effectively.
Original post: https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/338-managing-your-own-emotions-the-key-to-positive-effective-parenting
The Week of the Young Child
The Week of the Young Child™ is an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the world’s largest early childhood education association, with nearly 60,000 members and a network of 50 local, state, and regional Affiliates.
The purpose of the Week of the Young Child™ is to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs.
NAEYC first established the Week of the Young Child™ in 1971, recognizing that the early childhood years (birth through age 8) lay the foundation for children’s success in school and later life. The Week of the Young Child™ is a time to plan how we—as citizens of a community, of a state, and of a nation—will better meet the needs of all young children and their families.
Today we know more than ever before about the importance of children’s earliest years in shaping their learning and development. Yet, never before have the needs of young children and their families been more pressing.
The Week of the Young Child™ is a time to recognize that children’s opportunities are our responsibilities, and to recommit ourselves to ensuring that each and every child experiences the type of early environment—at home, at child care, at school, and in the community—that will promote their early learning
Back-and-forth exchanges boost children’s brain response to language
Study finds engaging young children in conversation is more important for brain development than “dumping words” on them.
A landmark 1995 study found that children from higher-income families hear about 30 million more words during their first three years of life than children from lower-income families. This “30-million-word gap” correlates with significant differences in tests of vocabulary, language development, and reading comprehension.
MIT cognitive scientists have now found that conversation between an adult and a child appears to change the child’s brain, and that this back-and-forth conversation is actually more critical to language development than the word gap. In a study of children between the ages of 4 and 6, they found that differences in the number of “conversational turns” accounted for a large portion of the differences in brain physiology and language skills that they found among the children. This finding applied to children regardless of parental income or education.
The findings suggest that parents can have considerable influence over their children’s language and brain development by simply engaging them in conversation, the researchers say.
“The important thing is not just to talk to your child, but to talk with your child. It’s not just about dumping language into your child’s brain, but to actually carry on a conversation with them,” says Rachel Romeo, a graduate student at Harvard and MIT and the lead author of the paper, which appears in the Feb. 14 online edition of Psychological Science.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers identified differences in the brain’s response to language that correlated with the number of conversational turns. In children who experienced more conversation, Broca’s area, a part of the brain involved in speech production and language processing, was much more active while they listened to stories. This brain activation then predicted children’s scores on language assessments, fully explaining the income-related differences in children’s language skills.
“The really novel thing about our paper is that it provides the first evidence that family conversation at home is associated with brain development in children. It’s almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain,” says John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the senior author of the study.
Beyond the word gap
Before this study, little was known about how the “word gap” might translate into differences in the brain. The MIT team set out to find these differences by comparing the brain scans of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
As part of the study, the researchers used a system called Language Environment Analysis (LENA) to record every word spoken or heard by each child. Parents who agreed to have their children participate in the study were told to have their children wear the recorder for two days, from the time they woke up until they went to bed.
The recordings were then analyzed by a computer program that yielded three measurements: the number of words spoken by the child, the number of words spoken to the child, and the number of times that the child and an adult took a “conversational turn” — a back-and-forth exchange initiated by either one.
The researchers found that the number of conversational turns correlated strongly with the children’s scores on standardized tests of language skill, including vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning. The number of conversational turns also correlated with more activity in Broca’s area, when the children listened to stories while inside an fMRI scanner.
These correlations were much stronger than those between the number of words heard and language scores, and between the number of words heard and activity in Broca’s area.
This result aligns with other recent findings, Romeo says, “but there’s still a popular notion that there’s this 30-million-word gap, and we need to dump words into these kids — just talk to them all day long, or maybe sit them in front of a TV that will talk to them. However, the brain data show that it really seems to be this interactive dialogue that is more strongly related to neural processing.”
The researchers believe interactive conversation gives children more of an opportunity to practice their communication skills, including the ability to understand what another person is trying to say and to respond in an appropriate way.
While children from higher-income families were exposed to more language on average, children from lower-income families who experienced a high number of conversational turns had language skills and Broca’s area brain activity similar to those of children who came from higher-income families.
“In our analysis, the conversational turn-taking seems like the thing that makes a difference, regardless of socioeconomic status. Such turn-taking occurs more often in families from a higher socioeconomic status, but children coming from families with lesser income or parental education showed the same benefits from conversational turn-taking,” Gabrieli says.
The researchers hope their findings will encourage parents to engage their young children in more conversation. Although this study was done in children age 4 to 6, this type of turn-taking can also be done with much younger children, by making sounds back and forth or making faces, the researchers say.
“One of the things we’re excited about is that it feels like a relatively actionable thing because it’s specific. That doesn’t mean it’s easy for less educated families, under greater economic stress, to have more conversation with their child. But at the same time, it’s a targeted, specific action, and there may be ways to promote or encourage that,” Gabrieli says.
Roberta Golinkoff, a professor of education at the University of Delaware School of Education, says the new study presents an important finding that adds to the evidence that it’s not just the number of words children hear that is significant for their language development.
“You can talk to a child until you’re blue in the face, but if you’re not engaging with the child and having a conversational duet about what the child is interested in, you’re not going to give the child the language processing skills that they need,” says Golinkoff, who was not involved in the study. “If you can get the child to participate, not just listen, that will allow the child to have a better language outcome.”
The MIT researchers now hope to study the effects of possible interventions that incorporate more conversation into young children’s lives. These could include technological assistance, such as computer programs that can converse or electronic reminders to parents to engage their children in conversation.
The research was funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a Harvard Mind Brain Behavior Grant, and a gift from David Pun Chan.
Original article post can be found here.
An Apology: Turning Wrongs into Rights
This story comes from one of our 3-year-old classrooms. What a great message and learning experience from our young people!
Here is the scene:
*Friends are playing on the playground with the Pre-School classes when a child is walking around the playground by themselves and walks up to the teacher.*
Child: Teacher, no one wants to be my friend today.
Ms. Claire: Oh, I’m sure someone would love to be your friend! Have you asked anyone if they want to play with you?
Child: I asked them but they said they didn’t want to play with me.
Ms. Claire: Did you ask them WHY they didn’t want to play with you?
Child: (Pauses for a moment of thought) I did not! I’ll be right back!
*a few moments later*
Child: Teacher, I went to ask them and they said they didn’t want to play with me because I’ve been hitting them and not a very nice friend today.
Ms. Claire: Ohhh… Well, I don’t really like it when my friends hit me either. Do you remember there are two parts to sorry? You have to SAY you’re sorry then you have to SHOW you’re sorry. Maybe you can ask them how you can fix it.
Child: Okay! (The child ran off to play with other friends from another class but you could tell they were still thinking about how to say sorry)
*15 minutes later*
We had come back into the classroom to work on journals and get ready for lunch. The child then went to go play with friends on the carpet area and read books. I could see that they were sitting with a group of friends when they took it upon themselves to apologize to them and tell them all that they were sorry they had not been a nice friend today. They read books and laughed together. They had turned their wrongs into rights and are beginning to understand what a true apology looks like.
The following is an excerpt from Zero to Three
What is a True Apology?
I think apologies are important. But not the kind of apologies that we, as parents, are often tempted to use. The “I’m sorry…but” apologies: “I’m sorry, but it’s time for nap” or “I’m sorry that you threw the train at Thomas, now you have to take a break.” These apologies are not real. They are limit softeners–our parental code for, “Something really crappy is coming up now…I hope you don’t freak out.”
True apologies are important, even with babies and toddlers. Think of all the times that toddlers hear adults tell them, “You hit your brother/took your friend’s stuffed animal/dropped Mommy’s wedding ring down the drain (yes, this happened). NOW SAY YOU’RE SORRY.” How do we know how to say we’re sorry? How do we know how to forgive? We learn by experiencing it.
A true apology is one that clearly states what the adult did wrong in simple terms that a child can understand, like “I yelled at you and I shouldn’t; I’m sorry for that.” (And no excuses—for example, this is not a true apology: “I’m sorry for yelling, but your tantrum got me really upset.”)
What Do True Apologies Teach Young Children
True apologies between adults and children do three important things: First, they show children how to recognize the difference between right and wrong (this is called a conscience, and comes in handy.)
Second, true apologies help adults build an authentic relationship with their children—one in which both people will sometimes make mistakes. Repairing mistakes (apologizing) can and often does take a relationship to a new level.
Finally, offering a true apology teaches children—even toddlers—how to take responsibility for their actions and how to forgive. There is power, love, and generosity in forgiveness. It is a big deal.
By Rebecca Parlakian
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