Life’s too short to sweat the small stuff isn’t it?
It’s what adults often say to each other. But a child’s attitude to the ‘small stuff’ is often a different matter. This is an observation that a Dad made on a course I ran a while ago: Children do ‘sweat the small stuff.’
One parent I worked with recently, just could not understand why her four year old son made such a huge fuss because his biscuit was broken. She offered him another biscuit, but he would have none of it. What could she do, she couldn’t exactly stick the broken biscuit back together could she?
This little story made me smile, it reminded me of the time when my son, then around the same age was inconsolable one day because his Batman pants were in the wash. You would have thought his little world had just ended.
There’s no doubt, children can get very emotional very quickly about seemingly unimportant things.
It might not seem like a good idea to pander to this, and to bend over backwards to make everything right for them all the time, but it is important listen. Patience and empathy on your part will help your child to feel that their emotions are valid, which they are, they really do feel upset/disappointed or whatever it is.
Most parents are not surprised when their two year gets upset about small things, it is accepted that this behaviour is not at all unusual for a child of this age. But it is not uncommon for older children to get very emotional when something is not right. Being able to regulate our emotions, delay gratification, and respond appropriately to life’s ups and downs, are skills that take time to develop, and some children will need more support than others. But there is plenty you can do to encourage these skills in your child.
Here are a few simple, easy to remember ideas:
Try to follow these steps next time you have an emotional child on your hands:
Name the problem ‘Your sister has trodden on your Lego model again.’
Acknowledge the feeling: ‘That must be upsetting.’
Let your child talk or ‘rant’ if that is what they need to do.
Keep on listening for as long as it takes, don’t feel you have to say much or ‘fix’ the problem.
Validating your child’s feelings in this way will help your child to feel that you really care and understand what they are going through, and it can help to prevent the emotional behaviour from escalating.
Encourage problem solving
Ask your child if they can think of a solution ‘What do you think you could do to stop this from happening?’
Brainstorm some different solutions; support your child to do this.
Agree on the best solution: ‘So it’s agreed that you will play with your Lego at the other end of the sitting room, where no one is going to be walking past.’
Try out the solution. Remind your child to put the plan into action.
Review the plan at a later time and talk to your child about whether the solution to the problem has worked, and if so why? If it has not worked, why is that, what could be done differently?
Encouraging your child to come up with their own solution to a problem (with your support) is a more useful approach than just fixing the problem for them. When they walk out the door as a young adult, you want to know that they can deal with the problems that life throws at them.
Be a Role Model
Children learn a lot by watching others and it is a good idea to let them see you solving problems in this way: ‘Kid’s, the film is all booked up on the day we want to see it, shall we go another day, see a different film or do something else instead?
Be aware that children develop different skills at different rates. You may have a bright child who appears to be ahead when it comes to reading and learning, but that does not necessarily mean that they will be up to the same speed in their emotional development.
If there is not an answer to the problem, the biscuit really is broken, or the Batman pants really are in the wash, then your child will need to learn that sometimes there will be disappointment.
Just stay calm and be there for them while they ‘sweat the small stuff.’
It can be hard as a parent to know how to deal with this sort of situation, but one of the most important and powerful things we can do is simply to acknowledge these feelings, and understand that they are valid.
Let’s take a quick look at this from an adult perspective.
Let’s say you had a really busy time at work and are feeling pretty tired as you walk in the door at the end of a very long day. Your partner was going to be home before you, and as he is busy too and it’s Friday, you had agreed that he would pick up a takeaway on his way home, and have the kids all sorted and the food ready for when you get in.
As you walk from your car you are looking forward to stepping into the house. Everywhere will be tidy, the plates will be on the table, the children will be playing happily together, the food ready to be served. It’s the start of a blissful evening with your adored family.
The reality is a million miles from what you have imagined. The kids are fighting, the house is a mess and there is no food, no take away, no nothing. Your partner is just coming off the phone, he’s sorry, something came up at work and he had to call a client, he has not had time to tidy up or ‘sort’ the kids and guess what…. Yep, he clean forgot to pick up that takeaway!
Well, I’m guessing I don’t have to describe what happens next but let’s say it involves you, some toys and a pram!
Maybe your partner can see straight away that you are feeling tired, stressed, upset, frustrated and disappointed, to name but a few of the emotions swirling around inside you. Maybe he will take your angry reaction on the chin and listen to your complaints without taking it personally. After a few minutes of listening to you rant and agreeing how difficult it must be to come home to all this chaos, he will pour you a glass of wine, shut the sitting room door on the bickering children, and just give you a big hug. Maybe...
How would that make you feel?
When we are upset about something we need to know that those around us understand our upset, we don’t need to feel judged and we don’t need a battle. Children may sometimes seem to make a very big deal out of small things, but it’s not just the kids that do that, it’s us adults too. We can’t help our feelings, but sometimes the way we show them is not helpful.
I always remind parents who are concerned at their child’s ‘big’ feelings that children mature at different rates. Emotional maturity can take a while to develop, and learning to deal with life’s ups and downs, and bounce back after disappointment, or respond to adversity in helpful ways takes time.
Be patient with your child.
‘Turn the TV off now, go and put your pyjamas on.’ Give a reason: ‘It’s time for bed.’ Give time for your child to comply, wait five seconds, stay quiet. Stay in the room. If your child does not comply, if you can do so, give them a choice,
Keep it friendly: ‘I can turn it off or you can, which would you prefer.’ Praise your child when they do comply. Don't be tempted to dilute that praise by saying 'Why can't you always do that' or words to that effect. If you do, you will be turning praise into criticism.
‘Ummm, that is a problem, only one laptop and you both want it’ (said calmly) You might then ask your children what the answer to this problem is. If they don’t know, give them some guidance. If they agree to the solution you have found together and the problem is solved, praise them for their ‘good’ behaviour ‘Well done you worked it out, that was sensible.’
What have they learnt?
That when you have a disagreement with someone, the best thing to do is to talk about it calmly and try to come up with a solution or compromise. And you the parent have role modelled how to stay calm and treat people with respect, even if they are getting on your nerves.
So give this a try next time your children are arguing, be patient though, and consistent, just doing it once won't be enough, remember Rome wasn't built in a day.