Question: I’m so embarrassed. My child picks the worst time and place to make a scene. How do I react and manage this crisis?
Answer: All parents have those moments when you want the ground to open up and swallow you. Usually this is when your child has behaved so badly or said something so hurtful that you are angry and shocked. Usually they do this at a time when you are in public and the entire world seems to be watching and judging you. On these days, it seems like all your careful parenting is thrown back in your face. It may be the day that:
- your 2-year-old child has a temper tantrum and lays in the middle of the road and refuses to move
- your 4-year-old appears naked and swears in front of your visitors
- your 10-year-old repeats a private conversation between you and your partner about his parents, in front of his parents
- your teenager has hysterics and refuses to come out of the changing room and come home with you because you won’t let her buy an inappropriate item of clothing.
There really is no preparation for these days and really no answer when they happen! You just have to get through it- but to come out the other side with everyone intact, needs some skill.
You are probably very angry but you need to keep your feelings on the inside right now. Your child may be angry too but remember that they are a child and do not have the same skill at managing their feelings. Extreme anger for a child can be an overwhelming feeling and they may not know what to do. They may be shocked by the intensity of their feelings.
You, of course, feel the maligned party here and will want your child to start putting things right. There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that actually, you are the parent and you really will have to be the grown-up in this situation. You are the one who will have to come up with the strategies. To make this possible for you, buy some time before reacting.
- Firstly, remove the child from the experience of your anger- put them safely in a play pen, get someone else to mind them, ask them to go to their room.
- Then find a way to let off steam that is not destructive- take a swift walk or count until your rage has passed.
- Much as you may feel a punishment is due, this will fuel your child’s anger even more and will set up resentment that will be held onto well into the future. You can be reminded of this kind of resentment even when your youngster is an adult. Do you really want this incident as part of your family history?
- Put off action at this time. If you can leave it for several hours, both of you will have a different take on what has happened. You need to tell the child when you will return to this otherwise they will have a feeling of dread sitting over their heads with an unspecified sell by date. Say things like:
‘Yes, I know your friend Andrew is allowed up until much later than you. We can talk about it later, but right now you need to go up to your room and get ready for bed. You can go up on your own or I can come up and say good night like we usually do.’
‘This is my day for doing the washing and I would like the sheets from your bed. You can either get out of bed and let me have them, or your sheets can just get dirtier and dirtier. It’s up to you’.
- Be the one to start the conversation.
- Whenever the conversation gets too heated, say ‘it’s good we have started to talk about this and I think we should leave it now until….and when we have had more time to think about it’.
- Be the first to offer an apology. Why? You have the greater understanding and you know that by doing so you are demonstrating how to back-down with good grace. You will find this much easier to do if you have left a gap between the incident and the follow-up discussion.
The good news is that, if you can be a role model, you will be giving your child a lifetime gift- one to draw upon in their own adult relationships and family life.