I want to connect with you today to talk about a question that came up at office hours today. “Why can my 5 year old behave really well at school and also for her grandparents but for me she’s out of control, and yelling at me all afternoon! I’m trying as hard as I can to make the situation better, but nothing’s working.
Do you feel her?
This situation can be so disheartening, frustrating and confusing!
Here's the thing...
Your child has a certain band width for stress. We all do. (Imagine holding a stretchy exercise band in front of you between your hands and pulling it out and in.) This represents resilience.
There’s a lot of social demand at school, along with many other sources of stress throughout the day. A stress-sensitive child, even if they have enough resilience to tolerate a day at school, can use up their whole stretchy band getting through that day as each stress leave them with less and less room to stretch. When they get home, their bandwidth is used up and they fall apart. (Imagine the starchy band letting go and snapping.)
Recognizing that behavior is communication is key to responding effectively to help your child. The go to's of reasoning, consequences, bribing, etc - simply adds more stress and therefore exacerbates the behavior. Co-regulating with your child helps them (and you) calm the stress. In other words, they are dysregulated. What they need most is a regulating presence - you - to connect with them and help them get back into their stretchy zone.
A big challenge is that you are also stressed out by what’s happening, right?!
The No-Yell™ strategy I recommend you try next time this happens, as long as no one’s getting hurt, is the following:
Notice your own stress in that moment. (racing heart, shallow or held breath, tight chest, etc)
Drop into yourself
Take a couple deep breaths focusing on the ex-hale.
This will take your stress down a little and allow you to access some creativity about connecting with your child. Even if it’s just 20% less stress, you'll be 20% more available to help your child regulate. And you'll both get to have the connection you want and need.