Does your child misbehave in very predictable patterns? Here's some everyday help in just 4 letters.
You pick up your darling baby at school and immediately know it will not be a pleasant drive home. A strange red light glows in the eyes of your normally angelic child. A frown pulls at the edges of her mouth and her hands are already clenched into fists. You sigh, and go over your "good mommy" spiel: "The car is not for yelling in. If you choose to yell, you choose to lose TV for the afternoon." You tense, because this means a fight for at least 15 minutes after arriving home. What does all this mean? Why does it happen so predictably?
As parents we've all been there — a change in schedule, a friend hurts their feelings, a late night after soccer practice means a setup for a bad tomorrow. On my calm days, I remind myself of some timeless wisdom my mentor mom gave me in the form of an acronym called "HALT."
Hungry: When we are hungry and our blood sugar plummets, we get cranky. In our house, we have a rating system that has helped us communicate about our hunger. It started one day while my husband and I were driving around. I just began to nitpick every little thing, and he finally asked if I was hungry or thirsty. I said, in a nasty voice, "Yes! I am at an 8 and I need to eat." He decided then and there we needed a rating system to help us in these situations. Anything over a 6 means he must HALT, and get me food in the next 30 minutes to an hour. Over 8 means we have to pull over to the next fast food joint and he is not to ask my opinion about where to go. This system has worked well through 3 pregnancies, and we are teaching it to our kids as well. They aren't as good at knowing when they are hungry, though, so planning to have food on hand or understanding their reactions if they don't eat at their normal times has helped a lot.
Angry: When we are already angry at someone else, it is easy to lose control with someone who has done no wrong. If our kids have a bad day at school, they can be bears to live with. The best reaction to this is to HALT, acknowledge their feelings, set limits, and give them an appropriate target for their anger.
Lonely: Feeling disconnected is painful and can be especially hard to see in younger children. Maybe their favorite friend refused to play with them, maybe Dad is working late, but not connecting creates extreme fear in children. Watch for withdrawing, listlessness, clinginess, and neediness for signs of loneliness. The only antidote to loneliness is connection, so HALT, make eye contact and have a tea party. Communicate to them on a daily basis that you are here, you are trying to understand and you care. You won't be able to help in every situation, but your loving presence will alleviate a lot of pain.
Tired: Grumpy means tired. After a long day of play, my eldest cries — don't we all? Be aware of your child's sleep patterns and whether they are getting enough down time without friends, noise, music, or screens. When we are overwhelmed with activities and people, we can become tired more easily and this is the season for that kind of difficulty. So HALT, have them do something relaxing like a nap, read a book and rejunvenate.
My hope is that you have noticed that while HALT can help us figure out why your child is misbehaving, it can also be the answer in each of these situations. HALT the next time there is conflict!
In the end, knowing your child and their patterns can help you to answer your own biggest question: "Why in the world are they doing that?"
Please share what your Mentor Mom has given to you! I would love to hear from you! Christy@christygrahamlpc.com is the best way to connect and I always like new friends on Facebook and Twitter [@ChristyDGram].