Often in managing our children’s difficult behaviour, we react to what we see on the surface. The facts are that our children’s behaviour actually communicates their unmet needs. When we correctly identify and satisfy those needs, our children will behave better. And although each human is a hugely complicated individual, there are general areas of need which we can identify and approach in a positive way to help our children become more confident and resilient. And the good news is, by focusing on their needs, you will automatically also be meeting some of your own needs. Find out more about the impact of Covid on our needs in my blog: 2020: Do you worry about how this year has affected your child?
Below are ideas and strategies to positively impact on each area of need:
It comes down to the very basics of healthy diet, age-appropriate amount of sleep and enough exercise. When one area is affected, the other two are affected as well, quickly resulting in low energy and low moods - an unmotivated and moody child! The brain and body needs
stable blood sugar levels,
enough sleep to grow and rest,
daily exercise to strengthen muscles and bones, oxygenate the body, and balance the chemicals in the brain.
What to do:
Establish good routines, especially at night to support bedtimes (download printable routine charts here). Limit screen time before bed. If you’d like to learn more, check out this information on the NHS’ website.
Plan daily exercise, ideally a walk, scoot or bike ride outside, but on cold and rainy days there’s always a million Joe Wicks and Just Dance Youtube videos to work through! Mix it up with the many in/outdoor scavenger hunt ideas you can find online or build an obstacle course in the living room. I love this idea list from the National Trust!
Discuss meals and plan a menu together with your children, it helps to visually see how much of each food group you are covering. If certain foods are an issue, agree to try small amounts of one food consistently over a couple of weeks and keep going till there is enough of a variety.
Our brains are wired in such a way that the ’thinking brain’ can’t work well, if the ‘emotional brain’ is perceiving threat. When normality has disappeared, our brains are constantly scanning for threats, releasing the stress chemicals cortisol and adrenalin, heightening our emotions and prioritising self-preservation. If you are feeling like you’re walking on egg shells and fighting fires with your child, their brain is most likely not feeling safe enough.
What to do:
As above, routines are a great way to establish some normality - consistency and predictability is key. Visual routines and weekly schedules are a great way to provide certainty. Draw it out on a sheet of paper and stick it on the fridge.
Talk about your experiences with your child. By telling them how you experience certain aspects of this new normal (ugh, I hate that phrase!) you will be helping them to make sense of their own experiences. “I’m finding it really hard that I can’t go an visit so-and-so, I miss chatting with them and laughing about silly jokes. Are there things you’re finding hard?” We want to use our mature brains, to help their immature brains make sense of this uncertain world. Narration is incredibly powerful. Think about topics such spreading covid germs, wearing masks, lockdown because of high infection rates, death rates, topics our children are ‘hearing’ but not necessarily understanding.
"Name it to tame it" - I love this strategy. It’s all about getting to the bottom of what the big worries are, because once they’re identified, we can do something about them or put them in their place.
It’s really important to talk about the emotions we experience, what it feels like in the body to get very upset and what we can do to calm ourselves down. Contact me for a free copy of 'The Frustration Chart’ to use as a reference when talking to your child and helping them to understand what is happening inside their bodies when they experience these big feelings.
When your child is experiencing big emotions, there is literally no use in arguing, threatening, reasoning, etc. Here’s a quick online course which will equip you to not only manage the meltdowns, but prevent them from happening.
Love and Belonging Needs
Feeling loved and part of a bigger picture is fundamental to our psychology as humans. It is such a basic need, that if I don’t experience love and belonging within my family, I will go and search for it, even if it is in all the wrong places. The research shows that a child’s brain develops through experiences and that love, care and nurture physically allows for children to develop bigger and more integrated brains. With the frequency, duration and quality of most of our relationships outside of the home decreasing, it is very possible that we’ll see children needing us to fill those gaps. If your child has become more whiney, clingy, silly, needy, regularly interrupting you or asking you for help with things they can most definitely do themselves, it indicates that your child is likely needing more support to satisfy their love and belonging needs.
What to do:
Spend some time alone with your child. 10 to 15 minutes a day will be perfect, but if this isn’t possible, even twice or three times a week would be beneficial. The idea would be to simply connect, with no other distractions - leave your phone in another room!
Start a family project, like a scrap book about a previous holiday or ‘family favourites’ which can include anything from favourite colours and foods to hobbies and holiday destinations. This type of activity creates opportunities for bonding and visually shows children that they are loved and belong to the family.
Try to get outside and have fun. Research shows that emotional connections in the brain develop best when interactions are fun and caring, even better, they develop twice as fast when you’re all outside!
Use family meals to chat about highlights, lowlights and ‘weird’lights (my daughter’s addition). Chat about previous family outings or funny memories, plan movie and board game nights, look through old baby photos - anything that will keep the focus on bonding and family relationships.
Activities which enhance kindness in the family will encourage even more kindness. It’s a sure way to get good amounts of Dopamine and Oxytocine flowing in all of your brains, making everyone feeling happy and content. Check out this kindness calendar for Advent (2020 version coming soon!).
We all want to feel like we are significant. We want to be valued and feel like we are making valuable contributions. To effectively manage uncertainties in our lives, it is important for us to have control over other areas. To rationally make good decisions, we need our thinking brains to have lots of practice weighing up which action will have the best consequences. But what happens when you feel like you have no control anymore? What happens when you don’t have opportunities to experience success anymore? It knocks your confidence, makes you doubt yourself, makes you feel worried about taking even small risks as your self-esteem decreases more and more. If you are noticing that your child has become more rigid, more unwilling to ‘put themselves’ out there, more argumentative and purposefully challenging you, this would be an indication that their esteem needs are in need of attention.
What to do:
Build confidence by celebrating your child’s strengths, talking about previous times they accomplished something, persevered and learnt a new skill, etc. Focus on the positives and be sure to highlight any positive actions you notice. When a child’s self-esteem is very low, it’s a good idea to make a list of your child’s positive traits and the circumstances in which those traits are able to ’shine’. Now think about the coming few days, which of those circumstances can you plan into the week to allow your child to experience success. Keep the phrase ‘success breeds success’ in mind.
Increase the choices. Unless we're doing heart surgery or find ourselves in another life or death situation, there is always room for negotiation. And I would much rather that my children are able to negotiate and reason about best options, than be fearful of whoever has most authority and just accept whatever fate they befall. There is a difference between open choices or limited choices. Avoid open choices, as that will inevitably invite more power struggles. (Mum: “What would you like for a snack?” Child: “Chocolate.” Mum: “You can’t have chocolate.” Child: “Why not!? I want Chocolate!” Limited choices however falls within your boundaries. Mum: “Would you like an apple, satsuma or grapes for your snack?” Child: “Grapes, please.” Offer choices even in seemingly unimportant parts of the day. A bowl or plate to have spaghetti, a blue or black pen to write down a list, etc.
Having responsibilities and completing tasks allows children to experience success. If a task or responsibility is initially too big to complete independently, break it down into steps and build up to the whole. This strategy is called ‘scaffolding’ and is very effective in developing confidence and self-esteem.
It is important to split the person from the behaviour or the feelings. For instance saying "you’re not a bad person, but hitting your sister was a bad choice, let’s think of a better way next time". "You’re not stupid, you’re just not understanding this one thing, here, let me help". We want to prevent those self-limiting beliefs from being established in our children’s brains.
A last thought on building confidence and esteem - focus on encouragement instead of praise. Here’s a handy sheet to download to help you use vocabulary which will focus on the effort, problem-solving and learning instead of simply a good end result. The language we use when we talk to our children becomes the way they perceive themselves and their ability.
Here is a quick online course to help you manage the daily battles, and bring back calm and balance to your family life.
By identifying and meeting our children’s needs, we are giving them the love, care and nurture needed to grow strong, healthy and happy brains!
The reasons why 2020 is having an effect on your child’s development.
20 Questions to help you identify possible problem areas.
Email Eloise if you would like to know more or need some support.