"How to Calm a Challenging Child" Miriam Chachamu
Half term was lovely, but there were definitely some moments that could have been handled better (by both myself and the children!!). Although we have left the toddler years behind us, the tantrums still continue, along with the emotional roller coaster of those pre-teen hormones and testosterone surges. Everyone's needs are changing and that means I need to change the way I react to things and deal with situations. Time for a bit of "contemplative reflection" - after that crucial, much needed strong coffee with a group of fellow mothers once the school gates were shut 9am Monday morning!
This book offers a "concise, quick and easy read with straightforward explanations of everyday family dynamics". It claims to give "practical advice that works" in a way that is "accessible under the most difficult of circumstances".
This is really a book for parents who feel frazzled and have got a bit lost with what is the most effective way to manage their children (we've all been there!). I also think it's quite good as a general "refresher" as the suggestions are obvious, achievable and doable- and mostly things we all do "on a good day"! There's no jargon, no complicated psycho babble or confusing rhetoric. I found that I was able to flick through it, skimming certain parts, reading the bits that were more applicable. The illustrations, diagrams and tables are really helpful for condensing information and gleaming the key points efficiently.
There was a really helpful section on giving praise. Again, things I have read / heard / done before but it was a good reminder and there are loads of examples so it's really easy to imagine how you could do this with your own child. It helped me clarify that I need to make sure the children's needs are being met; things go wrong when they feel their needs are being ignored - the tricky bit is understanding what they consider their "needs" to be and what you consider their "needs" to be! Under pressure, it's easy to overlook or misinterpret these. I'm not talking about the big stuff here, more that when they say they won't do something it could be because they are not sure what you mean and are too embarrassed to ask, or they don't want to be seen to be failing at it. There's a great table translating "Childish" speak into possible meanings in English. I think I might have to rip that out and pin it on the fridge! There's also an English into "childish" table - equally helpful and highlighting that often phrases like "stop it" and "how dare you speak to me like that" result in a child feeling unloved, frustrated or misunderstood. Chachamu advocates taking a moment to put aside your own feelings, frustrations and external pressures and trying to imagine what the child is feeling. Tell them what you think they are feeling and why and try to get to the root of the problem.
Another piece of advice that resonated with me was that during an argument, you should try to keep your voice lower than theirs and make sure you have eye contact. I so often find myself shouting instructions with my head hidden behind a cupboard door or to the backs of children at the other end of the hallway. Who knows who has actually heard me or realised they are actually being addressed! I also took away the very obvious reminder that sometimes we overwhelm them with a barrage of instructions or information, and, something I am guilty of, expect too much to be achieved in too short a time. But it is tricky when it's always a bit of lottery trying to work out exactly how long it might take someone to put toothpaste on their brush or find their other sock - a constant variable in our household!
I wish I could reproduce Chachamu's "Pizza" diagram to combat anger - or "hot thoughts" as she calls them. You can introduce it to them in a neutral situation, like a story so that they may then be able to use it independently next time they find themselves feeling angry or upset. For example: say a boy wants to join in with a game that another child is playing but their request is ignored. Divide a circle into 8 slices and ask them to write down 8 different explanations as to why the boy was ignored. Was it because no one likes him? No one ever wants to play with him? Or is the other boy rude? Or could it be something more "reasonable" like the boy was so absorbed in his game, he didn't hear - or wasn't wearing his glasses so didn't see who it was..... As they work their way around the 8 slices, the thoughts should "cool down" and then they can see the most probable reason rather than the most irrational and damaging one. A great technique - one that anyone could use for those moment of self doubt! There is a positive parenting checklist table which would be a great page to have bookmarked and ready to refer to every once in a while.
I liked the concept of an "emotional bank account" where you make "deposits" of positive comments, fun time together and avoid criticism so that when a "withdrawal" has to be made (shouting, criticising, ignoring needs) the child should have enough "deposits" to ensure they stay in "credit". I've also heard about this as a technique for couples. Chachamu underlines the importance of making sure siblings still get some individual time with a parent but points out this can be done very simply, it just needs to be pointed out to the child. For example, very unusually, my son and I ended up having some time together today - just 30 minutes to walk home before collecting the others -which we filled with a few jobs and mundane shopping so I didn't feel like I was getting behind, but we were able to chat. I involved him in my decisions in the supermarket and then said how much I was enjoying his company. He didn't respond to this with any kind of show of emotional intelligence but kept up a rather complicated explanation of the latest computer game he is obsessed all the way home which probably is his way of showing me that he was appreciative and did recognise our "special time" together. Interestingly it did have a positive impact on our relationship for the rest of the day.
Chachamu is realistic in her approach. She understands the ups and downs of parenting, the reality and the pressure, the frustration and the weariness. I didn't find it patronising, but honest, accessible and very easy to get the gist of a few techniques that could help. I admit, I did not read every single word in this book but did browse it a few times and certainly read some sections fully - I think that is often the best way to approach a parenting manual. It's given me a bit of a chance to step back and look at things in a fresher light. I'm sure a lot of the ideas in this book would help any parent, not just those of us with "challenging" children - particularly as that is a rather subjective and relative label.
My children are not overly challenging (although if I had £1 every time they were described as "spirited"....) but parenting takes a lot of energy and resource so in a sense we all need a bit of extra support when feeling drained. I think this book would be a quick, affirming read for any parent.
Thank you to my two friends who recommended this book to me and who have been exceptionally good listeners when most needed!
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