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A No-Yell™ Approach When Your Kid Says, "No!"

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

Sometimes feelings are messy! They go outside the lines, spill on the floor or splatter on your clothes. Sometimes they’re not nice. Was there a time you decided your feelings had to be nice?

Making space for your child’s artistic expression requires ignoring the messiness for a while in order to allow their creativity to flow. In much the same way, making space for your child to express themself emotionally requires ignoring splattered behavior and messy words for a while (as long as everyone is safe) and tuning in to your child. What if their behavior was simply the picture of an overwhelmed, sad or angry child?

Children are emotional creatures. Their behavior is their first language. They use it to communicate the feelings inside them whether “happy” (dancing around with a smile) or “angry” (throwing something). It’s not personal any more than the dripped or splattered paint during art-making is personal.

When your child is misbehaving, the source of the anxiety or stress that's driving their behavior is not always obvious. Sometimes it’s the feelings themselves that are big and scary!

In this state, executive functioning is compromised, logic and reasoning are off line and the emotional brain is in the driver’s seat. This is why all the reasoning, bribing and consequencing in the world won’t teach life lessons or emotional regulation skills at that moment.

The following story illustrates how to build emotional life skills and an even better relationship at the same time.

In the first version of this story, mom takes Sam’s behavior personally, like all moms, dads and caregivers do sometimes.

Mom: “Time to get ready for bed”

Sam: “No! I’m not tired!”

Mom: “You need to do what I say and get ready for bed.”

Sam: “I hate you!”

Mom: “That’s not nice! You need to apologize to mommy.”

The battle between mom and Sam escalates leading to frustration, yelling and tears….

In this second version, mom reminds herself that Sam is having big feelings and that it’s not personal.

Mom: “Time to get ready for bed”

Sam: “No! I’m not tired!”

Mom: “It’s time to get ready for bed.”

Sam: “I hate you!”

Mom: (pauses and takes a deep breath): “Wow what a big feeling — you sound/look mad!” (Mom gives him the words to match how he seems to be feeling)

Sam: “I am mad!”

Mom: “Tell me!” Mom has stepped off the battlefield and made space to connect emotionally with Sam. Using the 5 senses she asks questions like:

1. Show me how big your mad is (using her hands)?

2. What color is it?

3. How loud is it?

4. Is it hard or soft?

This helps Sam feel heard. After a while, he feels better and mom is able to take his hand and lead him up to bed.

Mom has validated his feelings and helped him become calmer and more regulated — leading to a more peaceful bedtime.

Children use behavior, attitude and words that aren’t nice, to communicate or paint a messy picture of what they’re feeling. They simply don’t have the words to tell you. They have to learn how to use words to express their feelings just like other skills they need to thrive.

Sometimes art needs to be messy. So do feelings!

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