Now you might think that Dirty Dancing is eighties’ drivel…
…Or you might be like me and spent your tween years memorising the soundtrack, dancing ‘in hold’ by the screen, and coveting silver dance shoes (how I wanted to master those heel flicks)…
Anyone else love Patrick Swayze?
Here’s a little something from my childhood archive, found recently by my dad…
How can you tell it’s not real? Does my comparatively gigantic head give it away?
Yep, sadly it’s one of those photo booth fakes.
More seriously, I’m so sorry that Patrick Swayze passed away. I remember watching an interview with him and his wife after he was diagnosed with cancer.
We need to enjoy every minute with our loved ones (cliché, but true).
Which brings me back on subject.
Like many parents, I used Time Out because that was the only tool I had.
How else could I deal with the hitting, the defiancy, the throwing of cutlery and porridge balls at the wall during a meltdown?
What’s bad about Time Out?
It may surprise you (it surprised me at the time) that many organisations, including many mental health and children’s charities, don’t recommend Time Out.
And there are many nurseries and schools who no longer use it.
Partly because children are more likely to spend their few minutes in Time Out being angry: I hate Dad. I hate my little sister. Is four minutes up yet?
Or ‘self-shaming’: I hit. I’m a bad kid. I can’t stop myself. What’s wrong with me?
Because young children aren’t developmentally ready to calm themselves, and use reason and empathy.
The brain areas they need to do this are in the early building stages, and are completely shut down by stress.
So now most psychologists, paediatricians and mental health experts focus on prevention, so watching for the first signs of stress, and taking steps to lower anxiety.
And when all else fails, they use Time In i.e. supporting a child through the meltdown.
When I discovered Time In, it sounded super-duper.
But Time In didn’t go to plan either.
So I have discovered some great modifications…
1. Nobody puts Baby in a corner (unless they want to get headbutted)
I’d seen a photo in a book of Time In. There was a calm-looking mother holding her angry child on the stairs.
I tried to reproduce this image.
So when I first started Time In, it was pretty much like Time Out. There was a ‘calm spot’ at the bottom of the stairs. I’d take my eldest there. I’d make him sit with me. He’d be angry about that. I’d sit beside him and try to hold him lovingly.
He’d try to hit me. Bite me. Headbutt me.
Just getting to the Time In spot was escalating the problem. As was staying in it.
I went on a timely education course. The trainer said:
“Physical force escalates problems 99% of the time.”
Yep, even gentle restraint (because it’s not always perceived that way by our children).
So his advice, from working with the most challenging kids? As long as they’re not a danger to themselves or others – let the child run under the table, or run up the stairs. Let him come to you when he’s ready.
And you can remove other children away (children who are less likely to hit you). So you can pick up the sibling who got hit instead and give them a hug, and a natural consequence of hitting someone is that the person who got hurt needs attention.
Often a problem can be resolved there and then.
“You were angry because Alfie took your truck. I understand that you’re angry. The rule is no hitting when we’re angry. It hurts.” Then we can offer solutions for an immediate change in behaviour, “You want your brother to stop playing with your truck? Can you offer him another toy? Or play on the table where he can’t reach?”
We can find our children immediately respond to this.
Once we put their frustrations into words, often the anger just goes there and then. Because they feel heard and now they have another solution at their finger tips. So your child may instantly be calmed and co-operate just by feeling heard.
And because we haven’t manhandled them, they can calm down quicker.
The hitting stops because they have another solution. Which is what we want. This helps him to develop impulse control.
And of course want to follow up with repair – the consequence – which he may be ready to do there and then. Not just apologising, but genuinely repairing with the person that they’ve wronged. So we might encourage him to offer his brother a hug, or find him a toy that he loves, make a sorry card or pick up what she’s thrown across the room.
But what if the hitting continues?
2. Hey, spaghetti arms…
Wherever your ‘Time In’ ends up (perhaps you crawl under the table with them), your child is still in fight or flight, fending off attackers.
If we respect their personal space – their dance space – injuries to both parties are far less likely.
Say you sit beside her and she doesn’t like it, or goes to hit you, you can ease back. You can say, “I see you need more space. I’m going to sit further away. I’m here when you need me to help you calm down.”
And if he’s damaging something? Well that’s your call. You’ll want to weigh up the value of the item versus the value of not being hurt.
Because both adults and children can be hurt by well-meaning restraint. I know teachers who’ve had to take time off work because of injuries gained from restraining a three year old – it’s surprising how much little ones can damage us too (those heads are hard and the teeth are sharp!).
But what about when they come into your space and attack?
You’ll want to protect your dance space (and that of anyone else with you).
You can use your arms and body as a barrier, which is much less threatening than when you grab, move and manipulate your child’s body.
When my eldest son was at peak meltdown age (around 3) and tried to attack, I would crouch down at a safe distance (making myself look less threatening) with my hands out in front so he couldn’t get at my face or body, but often just moving to this body position, at his level, out of his personal space would do it.
I used my soft and calming ‘biter-whisperer voice’ to say something like, “You’re angry. No hitting. It hurts. When you’re ready for a cuddle to help you calm down, I’m here for you.”
Now you know your child best here. If you’re worried about your personal safety or that of others, especially with older, bigger children, you may want to remove yourself further away, even to a different room.
You can also look for a course near you to learn safe restraint to help reduce the likelihood of injury should you need to protect your child or others from danger.
But as my Safeguarding trainer said, physical force and restraint should be avoided wherever possible because they escalate the problem and can lead to injury. If you can help your child to calm down without the need for restraint, you’re onto a winner.
3. Curing the Overload
Now one of the mistakes I made when first starting out was talking too much. Particularly at the peak of my son’s meltdown. Ever found yourself doing this?
Reasoning. Trying to get them to see things from the other person’s point of view. Coming up with solutions.
When our children’s brains are in shutdown.
My friend likened it to trying to berate a drunk. You need to wait until he’s sober.
At the peak of a meltdown, when the brain is in complete shutdown, techniques you might find helpful are cuddling and gentle rocking when your child wants this (you can just give them space and let them come into your lap when they’re ready), and empathising and seeing thing from their point of view to help engage and wake up their brains.
So you could say with genuine empathy, “You didn’t like it when he took your truck. You felt angry.”
It’s so challenging to resist the urge to start correcting before he’s ‘sober’, but it’s so much easier to stay calm and collected when we’re not trying to restrain them, convince them, or physically force them into a spot.
4. Don’t you feel like cryin’?
Ever felt better after a good cry when you’ve been with someone supportive? (Crying by ourselves doesn’t always help though.)
We’ve been taught that big girls – and boys – don’t cry, but it’s healthy. Stress hormones actually come out through the tears. It’s what nature intended.
If we say ‘don’t cry’, our children can learn to stuff emotions away. But they’ll resurface later.
Crying is a release for a young child, because she can’t put into words, ‘I’m scared of the lady with the gigantic teeth at pre-school. I don’t like it when she tells me off.’ Often children are really crying about some underlying stressor. The lost Tigger cup was just the last straw.
A lot of parents struggle with this (I know I did).
Every child is different, and so is every day. Sometimes crying won’t come, or doesn’t help.
Sometimes cuddling or gently rocking is useful. Or he might need some play therapy, some time outdoors (log balancing, anyone?) and a giggle because laughter releases stress hormones too.
Because sometimes children, especially those who go into fight mode, need to MOVE to burn off the adrenalin.
Being stuck in a corner is the last thing he needs.
So he can dance for joy. To show anger. To giggle.
She can listen to her favourite song. Spin ribbons around. Or use makeshift drums.
Or he can use something out of their ‘Calm Down’ box, like bubbles or something to squeeze.
Dance, music and movement are therapeutic.
And they happen to be great preventative tools when it comes to meltdowns. Sometimes we call for a ‘dance break’ when someone’s feeling a bit grizzly, or when we’ve just been sat still for too long (or I’ve spent too long at the washing up ball).
And honestly, if you’re having a bad day and you’re a Dirty Dancing fan, try putting on ‘I’ve Had the Time of My Life’ – it’s pretty much impossible to stay in a bad mood.
But what about the punishment?
Haven’t our children just learned that when they hit they get cuddles, toys and fun stuff? They get to dance.
No. What they learn is that when they STOP hitting and ask for help they get cuddles, toys, fun stuff and dance. The hitting never needs to happen (and we can be clear on that).
They’re learning how to deal with emotions, without hitting.
And the consequence is repair with the person who’s been wronged. Alongside coming up with solutions to prevent it from happening again.
And believe me, I’ve seen this at home and at school, children are much more likely to genuinely apologise and repair if they don’t feel backed into a corner. Er, literally.
Instead of those post-Time-Out. forced apologies made through gritted teeth!
So let’s take a leaf out of Johnny’s book.
Let’s take Baby out of the corner – she might just surprise us.
If you’re faced with regular meltdowns, anxiety, or any other parenting issues that are causing you stress, you may like to come and join us in The Love Spa.
Has anyone ever suggested you ‘calm down’ when you’re angry?
But it’s really hard. You’ve tried ‘just breathe’, but your body chemistry is still in Hulk mode.
We tell our kids to ‘calm down’ too, but they find it just as hard.
Here we’ll look at a practical tool to help us and our children get back into our senses during those high pressure moments.
The Magic of a ‘Sensory Box’
Do you remember those squeezy stress balls that were all the rage in the late 80’s?
This follows the same principle, except we’ll use more senses. These boxes help us and our children genuinely calm down (rather than quietly fume in the corner!).
Because when we’re in stress ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode, our body shuts down the brain areas we need to think, plan, calm ourselves and come up with solutions.
Our body doesn’t want us to be logical, flexible or empathetic when we’re fighting that sabre tooth tiger (in order to survive, it didn’t serve us to care about those cute little cubs back at tiger HQ).
These boxes help to fully re-awaken and develop our brains and our children’s brains. They help us get into our senses and the present moment.
(And it’s really hard to be angry when you’re blowing bubbles.)
What you’ll need
Don’t worry about it looking pretty. Grab any old box or a bit of Tupperware. You can do it now!
A small Tupperware box works beautifully for a travel box that you can keep in your bag (this is helpful if you’re out with kids at the supermarket and then he starts stamping on lettuces (happened).
You can have this ready for yourself when you know you might be in a stressful situation (visiting that in-law perhaps).
Or ready for that playdate for your child when it might get a bit much.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Squeezy toys or play dough
Toys that light up (including mini-torches)
Toys that spin
Pencil crayons and paper (he might show how frustrated he is through scribbles, dots or scrunching up the paper, because he struggles to say it in words)
*Don’t have bubbles? You can use washing up liquid and water with a straw, or even a washed dandelion stem (we were amazed by the giant bubble coming out the end of the stalk, which instantly calmed both of us!).
You can also use:
Funny items (e.g. silly glasses)
A small model to put together, like Lego
Fiddle toys (e.g. fiddle cubes)
CD or toy that plays music that your child loves
Chew toys (you can even get special chewable necklaces)
Favourite smell (e.g. essential oil or a parent’s perfume on a piece of cloth)
(Photo above: fidget cube – If your child is fidgety, at home or at school, this is something that can help (along with wobble cushions to sit on, which acts a bit like a mini pilates ball!).
Now I’ll be honest I bought a fidget cube for my son and he never used it, but other people swear by them! Each side has something different to fiddle with. )
Just a few items will do, say, up to six.
It helps if your child can choose what they’d like to put in their sensory box.
Because we’re all different and she might have a good instinct for what would calm her. Plus choosing items makes it much more likely that he’ll use it when he’s feeling angry.
It might take some experimentation to see what works.
We had to remove some squeezy toys from our box because they seemed to up the aggression, rather than working to calm.
For added sensory effect, you can even have a calming den with a sensory box and other items. Lots of schools are putting these in place for children rather than having time out spots.
Good for Adults
My son decorated a box for me with a space theme (he knows I’m an uber geek).
My box has saved me on a number of occasions. Inside I have:
– Homemade cards and cute pictures of my kids (you can have photos of any loved ones to remind yourself of the love in the relationship) to remind me of their love when another part of them has taken over!
– A piece of fabric with my favourite essential oil (for me, Rose Geranium)
– Written meditations or supportive prompts (I once wrote myself a meditation, put it in my box and it really did calm me down deeply, taking me through the process of calming down.)
You can also put inside:
– CD/ music that calms you (or notes on songs/ a playlist you can put on YouTube or Spotify)
– Paper or something like a mindfulness colouring book and pencils (either to write down your thoughts or draw)
– A classic stress ball, or any kid of ball to throw and catch (juggling has actually been shown to re-wire the brain and be extremely calming! It can really bring people into the present moment)
– Bubbles (these help adults breathe too – it is so hard to feel stressed when you’re blowing bubbles!)
– Or pictures of fluffy kittens – see you can’t help but smile, right?
Or pop in something that someone made for you or gave you (a child, friend, partner) that makes you feel all gooey.
Anything to change your body chemistry.
Just a few items will do.
Bubbles are top on my list because they help me to focus on breathing without realising it, and those bubbles floating around are calming, or giggle-inducing if we grown ups try to catch them.
And because our basic fight or flight brain never remembers how to calm down, I have prompt cards.
If you have a child, you might find they start bringing your box to you too – hoorah! (Because it’s hard to remember to go to our box in the moment when our brain is in shut down!).
You can also use my free Peace Tree meditation whenever you feel stressed (this has really helped me to get out of some dark and overwhelmed moments!).
We’ve been going through an odd stage of finding dirty underpants everywhere.
Behind the sofa. On the kitchen floor.
I’d spent a whole afternoon helping my son to tidy his room. But that night I spotted a pair of his dirty underpants lurking…
Not in the laundry basket. Not even on the floor.
But in the bookcase.
I ALMOST went into my berating parent tone. We spent ages tidying your room. You know where dirty clothes go…
But some magic hit me instead (don’t you love those days?).
“Oh, you’ve got a new book?” I asked innocently. I picked out the underpants and opened them up, “Once upon a time I went to school on a boy’s bottom. We sat on a chair. It was fun.”
Now quite honestly, other days I might’ve gotten an eye roll, but my son giggled for about ten minutes.
After lots of shouts of “Again!” I said, “So where do dirty underpants actually go?”
To my surprise he practically leaped off the bed and put them straight in the laundry basket. Yay!
I was so glad I’d resisted ‘mean mama’ mode.
Because humour is a HUGELY underused tool for getting children to co-operate!
I don’t know about you, when under pressure I’m prone to ‘humour brain freeze’. I want to be funny, but it’s like in the Simpsonswhen we look into Homer’s brain and there’s just a monkey leaping around clashing symbols together.
I get nothing!
But I’ve got some humour tools which are so helpful for inspiration.
Coming in 2020, I’m launching my ‘Little Book’ series (short read e-books, because you may not have time for a whole book of games!), including The Little Book of Giggles.
Turn potential conflicts into funny moments
These Little Books will also be raising money for charity.
And How to Get the Giggles is especially designed for parents, teachers or anyone who interacts with a child (including super-fun relatives!).
– 10 Secret Giggle Ingredients to turn any potential conflict into a funny moment
– 15 Giggly Games to help your child with anxiety, rivalry and phobias, including fun play ideas for babies and older children
There are even giggly games you can play when you’re sleep-deprived, post-new-baby (like ‘Sleeping Parent’ – that’s one of my favourites!).
And the Little Book of Getting Dressed Games is also coming soon, to support us in finding fun in what can be the most challenging time of our day!
Make sure to sign up to my blog to get these Little Books as soon as they’re released…
How about you?
How do you get your child to giggle?
Have you used humour to avoid a power struggle?
Does your child leave underpants, socks or other items strewn around the house?
Please do let me know! You can share in the comments below. I love hearing from you.
Lots of love and laughter
And if you’re looking for tailored support with your parenting challenges, including new loving and playful techniques, check out:
No parent likes visiting the emergency room (guilt-fest).
But we don’t like being a safety nag either.
Here you’ll find fun games and tips, like ‘Safety Monster’ to help make safety issues feel fun in themselves.
The games and tips below will help your child to look after their own safety (whether you’re with them or not).
We’ll cover games for younger ones, even as young as two, right up to teens.
1. Safety Monster (and other characters)
For younger children you can pretend to be a bumbly Safety Monster who appears whenever there’s danger.
You can say in your best monster voice, “Safety Monster Check“, then pretend to trip over that truck in the middle of the floor (hopefully getting a giggle).
Safety Monster reminds me to showmy children dangers, rather than just describe them verbally. So I might say in my monster voice, “Ooh, come and feel this table corner. Imagine if we fell over and hit our heads here. Yowsers me trousers.”
Your child can help Safety Monster avoid danger and this is an important part of taking away fear, by helping your child to feel more in control.
At first Safety Monster might need to give your child more clues and hints, like “Hmm, what can we do? Can you find a cushion to cover the table corner? Or shall we play over here instead?”
With practice, our children can make more and more safety decisions by themselves (and Safety Monster can be very forgetful).
You can use other favourite characters too.
Your child might love instructing a clueless Spider-Man how to cross a road safely. Or he can let Elsa know the rules on approaching dogs.
Using a character helps to build self-esteem because your child becomes the expert.
2. Safety Scavenger
It feels tedious to start every outing with a safety briefing!
But at the same time, it’s important for us not to miss potential dangers, like that broken glass at the playground or the multitude of toys on the floor during a chase game.
Turning safety into a scavenger hunt is a simple but effective way to get your child to think about dangers.
You might say, “Oooh, I can spot five hazards. Can you find them all?” Or for younger ones, “I spy a hazard beginning with S…”
Through my work I’ve found this approach really works, even with teenagers.
You might expect a few wacky dangers to be suggested, like ‘lions’ or ‘Voldemort’.
Safety tip: Make sure you brief your child not to run off to the hazard to show you (especially if it’s Voldemort).
She can take you by the hand. You can even all go as a chain.
Of course we want to empower our child, not bring more fearfulness, so for every danger, we can just approach it in a matter of fact way, talking about what’s in our child’s power to avoid that hazard. Can she choose a place that’s safe to play (rather than us dictating – which we all do sometimes)? What strategies can she come up with to avoid hazards?
Making scavenger cards (paper scraps will do) can be a great activity if you’re heading out somewhere new and want to think about safety before it all gets too exciting.
You can include words and pictures, like ‘spiky’, ‘sun’, ‘road’ or ‘dog poop’ that your child has to match when you get there. You’ll be amazed how exciting it can be to find dog faeces!
On one side, you can have the danger, like ‘stinging nettles’, and on the back you and your child can list ways to avoid that hazard, like ‘wear long sleeves and trousers’ or ‘avoid playing near stinging nettles’.
3. Help the aliens (or visiting child guests)
Your child gets to feel super special with this one.
She gets to set up an activity for some visiting aliens, or some real children, like younger brothers and sisters, or visitors to your home.
Your child comes up with something fun to do, like messy play in the garden, making music or colour-themed play in the sitting room.
He selects the toys and the layout, but also has to think about safety. Is there too much to trip over? Does the dog need to go in his special room? Are there any glass ornaments within reaching distance of the toddler?
She might want to go and find any choking hazards, for example, if a baby is coming to visit.
This can be a useful empathy tool, because your child has to pretend to be in someone else’s shoes and to think differently.
Because he might know the dangers, but other people don’t. That table corner might be the perfect head height for a two year old, but isn’t a worry for him at age five.
Clueless aliens make for extra giggles. Maybe the aliens think it’s safe to eat knives and forks. Or the table cloth.
With real visitors this activity helps to build sharing and social skills (and you’ll probably notice your child is extra excited when the visitors arrive!).
How about you?
Have you got any good safety tips or games?
Feel free to share any safety mistakes (hey, we all make them!). We can all learn so much from each other’s mistakes.
I’d love to hear from you. You can pop in a comment below.