Wouldn’t it be nice if your kids only flipped their lids at home? You could make sure they’re in a safe space, bring them a snack, and wait out the storm. In reality, emotional dysregulation often happens outside of the home - usually in a nice public space with lots of strangers.
At home, we can generally predict what will happen. The same people are going to be around, and the same things are usually going to happen day in and day out. If I start to feel overwhelmed, I can bail to my room or a safe space, and the people in my house usually know when to back off. In the community, all bets are off.
The challenge for a parent or caregiver is to get that kiddo back inside that ‘window of tolerance’ when things have become too tough or too exciting. The answer: take charge.
SLOW THINGS DOWN: Do your best to manage the environment and decrease the distractions around you. You’ll also need to slow your body down, which isn’t always easy. Take a few deep breaths and put on your best flight attendant face. Try to speak using 3 words at a time - this is a speed...that flipped lids...are more likely...to understand, and it also...slows you down.
GET ON THEIR LEVEL: I know the floor of the corner store is probably gross, but get on your knees so that you are not perceived as a threat. By literally getting on their level, you stop that, "fight, flight, or freeze" response that has been programmed into our brain.
CONNECTION: Reconnect with that poor overwhelmed brain. Say your child’s name and make eye contact. Empathize with them by paraphrasing what you're hearing them say. "You're upset that you can't have that drumstick for breakfast." Avoid statements that try to 'fix' or 'reason' with your child - their lid is flipped and won't respond to logic right now. It's also okay to just sit in silence for a moment with that kiddo.
After the storm has passed, we begin the real work of calming and co-regulating. The thing is, you can’t tell a kid how to calm down - you have to show them (Dr. Jody Carrington, Kids These Days). Here are a few of my favourite ways to model calming:
BREATHING: Sounds simple, but it’s one of the fastest ways to get that lid put back on. There are many ways to model taking a breath, but the silly ones will usually get your kiddo’s attention. I personally love a good dragon breath, or making the ‘wind’ blow someone’s hair.
DEEP PRESSURE: Giving a back rub or a big squeeze to your kiddo’s arms not only GIVES emotional reassurance, but also provides nice deep pressure.
CALM: Once your kiddo seems to have their brain back online, you can offer more cognitive interventions. CALM is one of those activities, and you can play it wherever you are. Start listing words, animals, or foods that start with the letter C...then A...then L...then M. Repeat as many times as you need. I’m also a huge fan of TAKE 5, which is a great grounding exercise.
After the lid is back on, move on. Don’t dwell on the incident, and most importantly, avoid punishment. Your kiddo knows that the tantrum they just had in the cereal aisle wasn’t cool, and they feel pretty rotten about it already. And guess what - it’s going to happen again! And you’re going to be right there to help them, every time.