Want your child to start listening to you? Stop asking ‘why’ every time!

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As a parent, we often know what the tantrum is about. And even then, we ask 'why' every time. Turns out, it does more harm than good.

The parents are a funny lot. We know what our baby needs even when he is unable to express it in words. We know exactly why he cries as an infant. And as soon as he starts to speak, we start to ignore our instincts and expect him to communicate like a grown up. And so, we end up asking him 'Why' for everything he does! The most common question we ask is, "why are you throwing a tantrum"?

'Why' is frustrating

'Why' is a perfectly normal question. It expresses curiosity, something we teach our kids to inculcate. We encourage them to ask 'why' for things they do not understand. And so, we also ask them 'why' for everything that they do. "Why are you crying?", "Why are you laughing?", "Why are you shouting?", the list goes on and on.

The problem with this approach is, while we are capable of articulating our thoughts, most children are not. Imagine a scenario. You are on your way to an exotic Greek island. It is away from the civilisation and rarely visited by tourists. It is a perfect getaway, and you arrive there all excited. And as soon as you do, you realise that this seclusion comes at a cost. You don't speak their language and they don't speak yours!

Imagine how frustrated you would be! You are tired after a long flight and all you need is to order some food and retire for the evening. However, the 'room service' menu is in Greek, and you cannot even order a simple toast! It is a similar situation when your 4-year-old is trying to express something but he cannot. So, he ends up shouting. He would have explained his reason if he could have, but he cannot. So he resorts to shouting. And on top of this, you ask him 'why'!

'Why' is damaging

When your child is upset, he turns to you for comfort. At that moment, he might be throwing a tantrum. Maybe his sleep was interrupted, and he is not fully awake. In this state, a 'why' demands an analysis of his actions and an explanation - does he think what he is doing is right?

It might sound a bit far-fetched, but when you do this often, it ends up damaging the concept of 'safe haven'. According to Faber and Mazlish, experts in communication between adults and children, it leads to an early breach of 'trust' your child has in you. It is construed as an accusation, questioning your child's motives.

What are the options to deal with a tantrum?

A child older than 7 can explain his actions in a well-articulated manner. So, start asking 'why'sparingly then. However, before that, you need to use it under special circumstances.  There are better ways of acknowledging your child's tantrum than asking him 'why' he is throwing a fit. To understand it better, let's look at the stages of a tantrum

Stages of a tantrum

If you analyse the anatomy of a tantrum, there are 4 phases. When there is some unpleasant distraction, the child tries to ignore it and get back to what he is doing in Phase 1. Phase 2 is where the child stops his activity due to the distraction. Phase 3 is a pre-tantrum phase where he is on the fence. And Phase 4 is a full-blown meltdown.

To deal with a tantrum, here are 4 things a parent can do to let your child know that you care about him and are not being unreceptive. These are based on the suggestions by Faber and Mazlish.

  1. Give your child attention and listen. Right when you spot your child in Phase 2 or 3 of a tantrum, just appear by his side and give him your attention and listen without saying anything. This might just distract him and avoid a full-blown tantrum.
  2. Give short acknowledgements. It makes a lot of difference when you respond by saying, " I see...", or just 'Hmmm" to your child's explanations.
  3. Identify with the feeling. "I feel you, buddy. It must have hurt..." goes a long way in reducing the intensity of the tantrum.
  4. Give your child his wish in fantasy. Many times, the tantrum is about something completely impractical. Maybe your son wants to wear his winter jacket to school. Instead of telling him that it is a stupid idea, just say, " wouldn't it be amazing if we could wear winter clothes in Singapore?" This serves as a distraction and you can talk him out of it.

Mums and dads, the world is competing with your child for your time and attention. Get your priorities straight for this aspect.

Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore

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