Mood swings, defiant behaviour, use of abusive or rude language by a preschooler are signs that your child needs help to control his feelings and responses.
Here are some tips you can use to regulate your child’s emotions and also teach him self-control.
1. Unravel the mystery: One minute you have a generous, good-hearted child and the next moment you’re caught in the middle of an emotional outburst. Her mood swings can leave you baffled and running in all directions to find solutions to the crisis.
But, finding the right solutions always starts by asking the right questions.
So, ask yourself - ‘Why does a perfectly behaved child suddenly start having a meltdown?’ 'What are the factors that trigger this extreme behaviour?' 'Is she hungry?' 'Is she tired?' 'Does she feel neglected?' 'Does it happen during a particular time of the day?'
Generally, children are edgy after they return home from school or when they are super-excited late in the evening. The reason for this may be because they are overtired and not apparently enthusiastic to most things parents may ask of them.
2. Set a routine: Children may not have a sense of time; but, they love routine. A set pattern gives them a sense of security. So, go ahead and structure your child’s schedule such that it looks exciting to him. It can be a 'pizza-night' on Fridays, 'Daddy–Son' evenings on Saturdays, and so on.
While planning the routine, make it clear to your child that certain things like bedtime and wake-up times or study schedules are non-negotiable. But show a little flexibility in areas like allowing him an extended hour of play on some days.
3. Maintain a consistent approach: When it comes to parenting, each parent may have a different style, which is fine. What is important is consistent parenting. Do not let the differences in your styles come in the way of bringing up your child.
For example, Mom says, 'No chips before dinnertime,' but Dad ends up giving a packet of chips when Mom is not around one evening. Such contradictions send confusing signals to children. They have a hard time trying to understand why Dad and Mom differ in the way they treat them.
Inconsistent parenting can compromise the hierarchy of the parent over the child and the child may end up undermining the parent. So, work as a team and put up a united front when you interact with your child.
4. Set behavioural expectations: When it comes to instilling and enforcing discipline, set clear, reasonable and consistent rules of behaviour. This way, your child would know what to expect and make informed decisions.
Setting limits helps children develop the ability to tolerate frustrations and manage their emotions.
5. Deal with feelings wisely: It is perfectly normal for children to get angry or upset. During such situations, parents’ natural impulse is to tell children to stop doing what they are doing. For example, if your child is crying, you may impulsively tell him to ‘Stop Crying’.
Never tell a child to restrain his emotions during times of emotional outbursts. Children who are distressed need acknowledgment and empathy. Don’t ask them to repress their negative emotions but guide them towards how to express themselves in a more acceptable way.
6. Seek help: Do you feel like you are walking on eggshells every time you interact with your child? Are her explosive outbursts very frequent? Are they getting severe? Are they interfering with her growth and development? If the answer is 'no', then you don't need to worry. But, an increase in unexpected behaviours should be addressed by a professional.
Remember, raising children isn’t easy. There's no single right way to raise a child successfully, and no single definition of what a successful parenting experience is. Even in the 'perfect' home setting, your child can be an unruly mess. Conventional wisdom or going by the books may work for your sister’s daughter but may not for you. Sometimes, just spending time with your child and seeing humour in everyday life does the trick. At other times, relying on your parental intuitions may work. And, yes, as your child grows older, he will learn how to manage his emotions. So, this may just be a ‘phase’.
Maathangi Iyer is a Human Resource professional who conducts interactive programmes to promote a healthy learning environment for children.