I went to a workshop many years ago and a woman whose name is Lorna Jean King gave a powerful presentation. She was an occupational therapist who worked with children and she was magical to watch and listen to. One idea she shared with us has stayed with me and is one of the philosophies that I base my interaction with the children and families that I work with.
She said "Behavior is a form of communication, not something to be controlled".
Now think about what she is saying, as a parent with a child that is having trouble communicating. You know in your heart that what she is saying is absolutely true. In our society children and their families are judged so much on how they behave. If you have a "good" child that sits quietly when you are in a restaurant, then you are good parents. If you have a "good child" that follows directions and doesn't challenge you, then you are "good parents." But is this really true? I don't believe so.
Let's think about your child, the child that is having trouble communicating. Often times this child is frustrated because they know what they want to say but do not have the skills to say what they want. When a child is frustrated, how do they behave? They may not sit still and follow directions. They may need to move their bodies to let you know what they are thinking or what they need (nonverbal communication). They might be loud and make unusual sounds which are really word approximations but other people might judge as being noise. They might cry, scream, hit, do things to get your attention that will not fall under the "good child" heading.
But you know, what they ARE doing is communicating. If your child is screaming or hitting let's look at why they are doing that. Could they need to tell you something and can't? Think how you would feel. If your child is crying, why are they crying and then what can we do to help them communicate their needs?
When your child is in this position, let them know that you are listening. Validate their feelings. Say things like "I know you are mad because mommy said no." Or "you are so angry right now, I'm sorry but how about we get a drink and take a break. Or take them onto your lap, hold them and say "I'm right here, just take a break until you are feeling better." Now, they will continue to maybe yell and cry but if you can remain calm they may tune into that and relax and calm down too. Let them know that you understand what they are trying to say or that you can give them the words they would like to be saying at that moment.
Now, I know that this can be hard. It's hard to have your child melt down somewhere public like the library or have the child that won't follow directions at play group. It's embarrassing and uncomfortable and downright miserable. But as miserable as you feel, your child is feeling really miserable too. So, take a deep breath, calm yourself and then help your child get through this hard time. Your child will be so grateful that you understand and are there for them.
And you know what, even though you feel like everyone is judging you negatively and you are feeling low when this happens, in reality most moms really have empathy for one another. And when you confidently can show others that you know just what to do when your child is melting down you are being a role model for others. As parents we really need to support and encourage one another.
Good luck this week!