Q. How do I handle it when my child talks back or yells at me when they are mad or being defiant?
This is such great question that I know many parents can relate to. Testing, back-talk or yelling are all very common. Sometimes it may be the child mirroring behaviors we are modeling (oops!), or it may be a moment where your child’s big emotions are overtaking their wise choices.
First, it’s important to not add more fuel to the fire that’s already burning (we’ve all taken that road, only to see the situation crash & burn). Instead of answering their yell with another yell – may I suggest you… Pause. Yes. Just. Pause… so you can stop your knee-jerk reaction of correction (or wanting to strangle them – like I sometimes feel). The best thing that helps many parents do this is 1 slow breath. Take a comfortable inhale through the nose and an exhale that is a slow as possible. It’s a quick tip from science that helps us rewire a hijacked system, into a physically more relaxed and focused self.
Next, try something I call “Whoa, low and slow”. Put your arms in a “stop” motion, and decrease the pace and volume of your voice, in order to decrease the pace and volume of the child. “Whoah…..lets…..just…. pause for a second……..(take a breath in front of the child to model, and they may take a breath with you).” If they seem open to it, offer a silent 30 second hug. This is all in alignment with the science we know from Dr. Dan Siegel & Dr. Bruce Perry about how your child’s brain can’t reason before they first regulate (calm down). (Image by Bruce Perry)
Then slowly say, “I’d….like to help solve this problem with you. I can’t help you when you are yelling.” If the child calms and is willing to talk, you can then guide them to tell you calmly what they are wanting or feeling: “I can help you best if you are talking in a voice I can hear.” If they continue to yell or use hurtful words, walk away or ask them to take some space in another room or area until they are able to talk calmly & with a voice you can hear.
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