by Carey Snide
Trying to find the balance between being a good parent, knowing how to set boundaries while supporting development is quite the feat in circus-level acrobatics. I often feel like I am one of those elephants on a ball with a plate balanced on a stick on my trunk. I love parenting and hate it. I never really know if what I am doing is the right thing but, every now and then, something works. When it does, I feel this flood of joy wash over me and a big sense of relief…maybe this is working. Recently I had this experience with my son in relation to his anxiety and felt this sense of relief when I found that balance, setting boundaries while supporting his emotional development.
My youngest gets incredibly anxious about being late to school. About 40 minutes before he needs to leave he starts watching the clock, his leg will bounce and he fidgets. At 30 minutes before he will begin to remind his brother, his ride, what time he needs to leave. As the clock ticks on…he amps up. Then, 10 minutes before they need to leave, he stands and paces. At times he can begin to yell and become verbally aggressive. It is not the greatest way to start the day, as his anxiety has a ripple effect.
This circus could become a madhouse quickly if I do not communicate effectively with my son. In a moment of calm, when he is not feeling anxious, I set the expectations. “Getting a ride to school with your brother is a privilege and he does not deserve being verbally attacked every day. If you explode like that again, the next day you will have to take the bus.”
I need to support him to speak to his anxiety effectively. This starts with doing some pre-planning, tuning into himself so he identifies how his body is feeling and what his anxiety is telling him. One way to speak to the anxiety is to tell it the plan. “Anxiety, I know you want me to hurry so I am not late for school, thank you. But I have always made it on time. If I am late today, then I will leave earlier tomorrow. If I am late, I will go to the office for a pass.” All the prep in the world is not going to matter unless he makes the conscious effort to follow that plan, this is where motivation comes in. For him, the motivation is that he does not want to ride the school bus.
One day, he did not follow the plan and was told he would have to take the bus the next day. I did not make a big deal about it, I just reminded him of the expectation and the consequence. I did wonder if the next day he would balk at it and put up a fight. I am happy to say that this balancing act of supporting him and holding the line worked. The next morning he got up, took the bus without argument. He also has not exploded since that day. I am also proud of him for learning he can speak to that anxiety and tell it what he wants to do instead of letting the anxiety take over.
Tips to manage big behaviors:
Set clear expectations and consequences
Tune into the feeling behind the behavior
Plan how to speak to the feeling
Follow through on the plan and the consequence
It is important to help kids learn how to push through anxiety, learning how to tell their anxiety what to do instead of having the anxiety tell them what to do. It is also important to set expectations, follow-through, and praise them for their hard work.
For more tips on how to help your kiddo speak to their anxiety and how to manage big behaviors, check out Youhaveavillage.com.