March 14th, 2022
There are few things as infuriating as when your child hits, bites, screams or throws things at you, or even worse, OTHERS. My daughter is a hitter and a screamer, and I personally don’t love being wacked or screamed at. Depending on how this behavior was responded to when you were a child – you may want to scream or even hit back. Well I’ve got good news, the neuroscience is in and we now know the ONE right way to respond to this emotional energy. It’s not always easy, but with some practice, changing the way you see this behavior will lead to connection instead of chaos.
The Big Picture – What’s Happening…
Children younger than 5-7 (7-9 for highly sensitive children) can’t express more than one emotion at a time, which means they can’t control their impulses. Integration of the left and right sides of the brain starts the earliest at 5 years of age. 7 years for highly sensitive children. This integration is what allows a child to feel the urge to hit or scream, and temper it at the same time… For example: “I really want to throw these scissors at mom’s head, but I don’t want to hurt her, so I won’t.” Until a child spontaneously reaches this stage developmentally, immaturity is the basis for their savage like outbursts and “child-like” behavior. So what’s happening to us, as parents and keepers of these little magical terrorists?
Why is it so triggering when our children act like this? Aside from the obvious – it hurts and it’s embarrassing, as it’s likely to happen in public and at the worst times. This behavior is likely also triggering wounds so deep in us, we aren’t aware they exist. Historically, emotions in children have been squashed, treated as an inconvenience, something to be managed and stopped. It’s likely you were not supported during your epic meltdowns as a child, and your body and brain remember this. Your brain remembers this behavior as not being safe, and you likely eventually learned to bury it deep within. Well here it is! Back with vengeance, our children provide the crystal clear mirror that reflects this wound back to us. This is why you might feel out of control + emotional, when your child screams, hits and acts a fool. You are instinctually aiming to protect them from a behavior that you filed as, DANGER DANGER, many moons ago.
Realizing what you bring to this interaction, becoming responsible for it by not passing it on to your child, is generational healing, magical stuff! Start small, and peel back the layers, I think you’ll be shocked to discover the origin behind your own impulsivity.
We’re living in a time where all we’ve known for centuries is to suppress, ignore, and discount emotions. Now that we know our children have no control over the impulse to hit, bite or throw, what do we do about it? The most important thing to do is to acknowledge the frustration and to allow it to come out. Whether we like it or not, we are emotional beings. The ability to temper emotion and impulse will come with maturation. Until then, we must be the container for our child’s explosive emotions.
When a child thinks we cannot handle them – even when they’re hitting, biting or throwing, they will learn to suppress their emotions, (not the behavior, which is what has been fooling us all these years) and this pattern will continue. They will mature into an adult who will still not know how to handle their emotions. EMOTIONS MUST COME OUT.
Sooo… If you can handle it, let them hit, redirect them to your hands while insisting that you can see that they are frustrated. Or.. let them know immediately that you can see that they’re frustrated.. And let them know you will get them to a safe place to hit/scream/etc. as soon as you can; all the while validating the raging emotion you see! Easy, right? Not really, but a certain relief is provided when you realize stopping the emotion, and its expression is not what’s best for your child’s development.
After the emotion is released – almost like a switch, the storm will pass and voila, you have a happy, loving child again. It can feel a little too Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at first, if you know what I mean – but you’ll get used to it. 🙂 This awareness allows you to shift, and magically find the space and patience to just be there with your child.
What About When You Just… CAN’T?
There will be times when you can’t be the container or allow space for your child to discharge (hit, scream etc.) their emotions. Whether you’re in the car, the grocery store, or crossing the street. When this happens, IT’S OK to use distraction to get through the situation… The trick is to rely on this less than 10% of the time; and to keep in mind that the emotion will still need to come out.
Think of it like this – we all have an emotional cup inside of us… once the cup is full, the next time we need to discharge, the cup HAS to overflow. If we regularly allow space to empty the cup, the less “overflows” we will have. This is why children (and adults) have big emotional releases over seemingly “simple things”. It’s not about the thing, the cup was simply full and the emotion had to spill out. If we don’t allow regular space (remember – ideally 90% of the time) for the cup to empty, it will always be on the verge of overflow – hello meltdowns and frustration for everyone!
A shift in perspective, about why our kids act the way they act, is a magical thing. The important thing here is how you see your child. If you see them as biting little monsters and screamers, that’s how you will treat them. If you see them as immature, wayward little humans in need of your leadership – that’s how you will treat them. Start small, and don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go as planned. You’re human too and you have endless opportunities to try, and try again. If you found this information helpful, I would love to invite you to subscribe to my email list, you’ll also receive my free guide – How to Get Your Child to Follow Your Lead, when you subscribe!