Safety + Goodness = Regulation
To me, parenting is all about building our kids’ capacity to regulate difficult emotions.
In their early years, kids’ experience emotions that are too big to manage alone in their bodies, which is why the feelings come catapulting out of their bodies as difficult behaviors – hitting, throwing, flailing, etc.
How to we build change behavior? Through building emotion regulation. How do we build regulation? Safety + Goodness.
We must establish safety first. We remove a child throwing blocks from a block area is not to punish or give a “natural consequence” – we remove this child for his and everyone else’s safety. This is our first and foremost job as a parent: make sure our child is safe.
We establish safety when we assert our sturdy leadership: when we swiftly and confidently remove our child from the block area telling him, “My number one job is to keep you safe and right now safety means you and I together in a separate room.” We don’t need our child’s permission or approval and we should anticipate pushback and screaming. It’s critical to follow through to allow for the feelings of safety.
And next? Regulate yourself, find your goodness (“I am a good parent, my child’s behavior is not a measure of my parenting!”), and then show this goodness to your child.
Children respond to the versions of themselves we reflect back. Want your kid to act like a good kid? Treat him like one. Separate his behavior on the outside from who you see on the inside.
Our kids feel good inside when we differentiate behavior and identity: “I won’t let you throw blocks. I know that you were having a hard time. I care about that and I care about you.”
Our kids feel good inside when we stay with them when they’re upset. Sit with your child. Breathe. Stay.
Then, the next day, after you’ve established safety and goodness, work on the skills your child is missing. Create a situation where you can “play around” with frustration. Practice breathing, self-talk, taking breaks.