“I just can’t cope with the meltdowns” they say. It’s delivered with a heavy sigh and an unspoken desperate plea for help.
“Smiley at your Service!” I say. Happy to shine a light on this very common problem. There are so many families who struggle with anger…….but wait……we really don’t want to switch our children off!
I get it that faced with an angry bear is distinctly unpleasant and scary. Some children are very physical or throw things. Pets run for cover and doors wobble off their hinges. And yet, somehow these poor kids can’t stop. The power of their anger rages on inside of them pushing loved ones away and making them feel bad inside. Wretched in fact.
Feelings cannot be selectively switched off
If we numb anger, we numb joy and excitement. So what does it feel for a meltdown child who is met with an angry parent, served up a hefty punishment, threatened with consequences or sent away to calm down alone?
They tell me this: “I am a bad kid. I am too much for the people who are meant to keep me safe and be there for me. If my parents can’t handle me when I’m like this, who can?” Cue more meltdowns from a child who feels unsafe, desperately unhappy and misunderstood.
I tell them: “You are not your anger. Everybody gets angry sometimes. Your anger is a messenger and it has something to tell you. I know it makes you feel temporarily powerful and in control to be that mad, but it doesn’t. It makes you feel bad and more angry. Then you can’t control your behaviour. You are a really good kid, you just haven’t been taught how to find your way and we can do that….together.”
Focus on the emotion not the behaviour
As parents our natural reaction to anger is to regain control. We need to shift our perception a bit there and recognise that we cannot control our children. If we get too fixated with controlling behaviour, we are setting ourselves up for an almighty power struggle. How can you get comfortable with the uncomfortableness and uncertainty anger brings? Fact of the matter is, you can’t. Not if you haven’t been taught how to be comfortable with all of your own feelings.
It’s better out than in
Have you ever thought that they are not your meltdowns to cope with? They are for your child to figure out and all you can do is stay calm and love them through it. Every time you step in, you leave them clueless, you shut down their ability to feel and tune into themselves. Allowing feelings lets them pass much quicker. You can keep everybody safe and you can be on standby when the tears fall. This is when we know the tornado has passed.
So what does happen when the meltdown is like a crazy tornado which affects the whole family?
Emily, aged 12 came to see me for coaching as part of the Kallikids 2015 Sponsorship, a charitable initiative which aims to give 70 children from all walks of life the opportunity to participate in activities that they might not have otherwise been able to.
Emily’s Mum said “Like many of Lisa’s clients, I contacted her when we were at a crisis point and was feeling pretty desperate about our family relationships. Not only was our family going through a difficult change of circumstances but I was deeply concerned that my spirited daughter was becoming increasingly more anxious, fearful and argumentative to the point where her behaviour at home was causing an enormous strain on everyone. There was not much joy in our house.”
We decided our goal for coaching was to achieve a more peaceful and harmonious home – Emily hoped to find ways to control her fears and anxieties so that they wouldn’t control her. Both Emily and her Mum wanted coaching to help her learn how to deal with big emotions in a healthier way. I wrote another blog post to help Mums channel the most powerful version of themselves.
“Reaching out to Lisa, who instantly understood everything I told her, was one of the best decisions I have ever made as a parent. Lisa has provided encouragement, support and practical suggestions to help me to understand Emily better and be the kind of parent I want to be. She may coach the child but Lisa’s ability to connect with the parent(s), and bring everyone together as a team with a common goal, is her real gift.” said Emily’s Mum.
In the year I worked with Emily, we had the opportunity to explore and create a pretty awesome toolkit which I want to share with you, lovely reader so you can learn from it too.
Lisa has taught us so much
“Oh my goodness, I could fill a book! Emily made a calm down jar and stress balls. We also got a box of Lisa’s Smiley Thought Cards. Lisa has introduced us to many tools that will stay with us such as relaxation, breathing, journeying, love languages and how to parent with connection and empathy. Emily’s sessions have ranged from inviting her fears to tea (to address them and make them less overwhelming) to drawing mind maps and even equations.
Fear + survival mode (fight and freeze) + lack of self belief & ability + tiredness = MELTDOWN!!
Emily learnt that when she is scared or angry she is in ‘survival mode’ and needs to calm down before she does anything else. Lisa and Emily have explored breathing techniques to take her out of survival mode ‘Fight Flight or Freeze’ when a big emotion such as fear, worry or anger is overwhelming her. She described being in the midst of a meltdown at home as a ‘tornado’ and we had a brilliant joint session with Lisa to explore how I could best help her when that happens.”
The word which sums up our entire coaching journey is acceptance
“The biggest gift of Lisa’s coaching has actually been helping me to let go of the mindset I had to try and ‘fix’ Emily. I think I had been hoping for some kind of transformation, wanting her to change. Lisa helped me to see that if I kept expecting something from her that she was unable to give, I would always be disappointed and she would feel that. This, of course, damages our connection as mother and daughter and leads to constant power struggles and battles, which is what I was seeing at home.”
Lisa’s coaching has helped me to reconnect with and celebrate the wonderful child I already have! I have learnt to validate more of who she is rather than what she does. The transformation that I so desperately desired has actually happened in me and my attitude towards her.
“There is no fire. No war. Nothing bad. You are on the same side.”
Wise words from the Smiley Coach in one of my feedback emails! This is one of the sentiments that has stuck with me the most: when things get heated (they still do and always will as that’s part of real life) this is the mantra I find myself referring to “we’re not at war, we’re a family!”
We are not aiming for perfection but progress
This beautiful family worked so hard to make that happen. I really enjoyed getting to know them throughout the sponsorship and am grateful they volunteered. They were brave, determined and committed. Nothing changes without action. So now they continue their journey to create that peaceful household that they came to coaching searching for. Emily’s Mum goes on to say:
“I don’t always get it right – real change takes time to embed but Lisa has helped me to place importance on the progress instead of the outcome. Sometimes I still get frustrated by Emily’s behaviour but the fact is that we both have a much better ‘toolkit’ to help her when she feels overwhelmed by big emotions. Lisa gave a great piece of advice to think of myself as a detective, trying to find out what’s wrong and putting the responsibility back onto Emily, letting her feel her own feelings so she can move through to working out a solution for herself. I find myself asking a lot more “Do you need me to help you?” rather than giving out orders and direction all the time.”
It has had a really powerful, uplifting effect on all of us
“Lisa highlighted that focusing on behaviour that demonstrates her personal qualities makes Emily more than her achievements. This seems so obvious but when family dynamics have broken down it is easy to become entrenched in a cycle of constant correction, discipline or negativity. I have made a deliberate effort to notice the good stuff, even tiny things like seeing her doing something without prompting (yesterday it was putting away her towel & toiletries after showering) or how great she is with her baby cousin.”
“Lisa told me not to fear it and to learn how to work with it instead. Strong willed children have the energy needed to affect changes in the world when they are older – it’s cause for celebration although it might not feel like it! It’s really easy to get sucked into a cycle of power struggles; Emily and I both want to be in control and Lisa has shown me that we both can be without disempowering the other.
Lisa is equipped to support children and their families through any kind of issue and she will create the safe space you need to work through the issues. I cannot recommend her enough and I will always be so grateful for the sponsorship that allowed us to benefit from her expertise.”
If you have a tornado raging through your home and it’s difficult for you to reach acceptance, then call me. I’d love to help. And if you’d like to read more about Emily’s journey, check out her page on the Kallikds website. Thank you Kallkids for creating such a wonderful programme.
Love Smiley x