Next time a child you live or work with does something like:
• Throwing a you-just-took-away-my-birthday level fit when asked to help find their missing sock.
• Getting their three year old arm stuck in a toddler toy.
• Scrapping a knee in an apple tree climbing accident.
• Bitting another child a third time in one morning.
• Pooping on their hand while sitting on the toilet.
• Attempting to prepare breakfast by dumping a dozen eggs into the clothes dryer and turning it on.*
Consider taking a deep breath—or two—before responding.
Our first reactions to children’s actions that catch us off guard, or upset us, can be overreactions—especially if we‘re feeling stressed, tired, rushed, or anxious.
A breath or two creates space.
Space for self-collection. Pull yourself together if you’re angry, or scared, or about to double over with laughter. Big emotions from you are rarely beneficial in such situations. They tend to escalate things.
Space to stifle a biting tone. Your tone of voice matters in such situations. Ferocious tones can trigger the fight or flight reflex, needlessly escalating the situation into a confrontation. Instead, aim for the three Cs: Cool, Calm, and Collected.
Space to consider the situation. Try to collect information and choose a course of action. You don’t need to go full Sherlock Holmes, just consider things like: What’s going on here? Is it as bad as it looks? How should I handle this?
Space to choose a mindful reaction. Now that you’ve collected, stifled, and considered, you can react mindfully. What course of action will get you past this point most effectively? What can you and the child learn from the situation? What’s the best long-term choice.
A couple more things to consider:
Very few situations require immediate response with ninja-like reflexes. In most challenging situations, there’s probably time for a third and fourth breath and maybe even a hot beverage before responding. If there’s not a bone sticking out of someone’s forearm or flames shooting across the room, take the time you need.
If pausing before reacting is a new approach for you, it may take some time to make it a habit. Give yourself that time and try not to beat yourself up if there’s a setback.
Remember that in most situations kids are simply trying to figure out how the world works. They are constantly experimenting—“What will happen if I stick my arm in there?”, “What if I don’t help look for the sock?”, “How would poop feel on my hand?”
*All these things happened with one child we cared for in our family child care program over a 12 month span.