You’re in the supermarket, and your child wants to buy a pack of gum. You say no, and the inevitable happens: He throws a tantrum.
Most parents would get caught up in managing the outburst. Jonice Webb, a Boston-area psychologist, recommends trying to understand the cause. “If you can feel empathy for your child and respond to your child’s emotion, you’ll get much farther than if you’re just reacting to their behavior,” she says.
Webb, who wrote the new book “Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect” (Morgan James, $19.95), suggests seven ways for parents to be more emotionally attentive:
1. Pay attention to who your child really is. “And reflect it back to her,” Webb says. If he is struggling with math homework, say, “I see your math homework seems really frustrating.”
2. Feel an emotional connection to your child. “Strive to feel what your child is feeling, whether you agree with it or not,” she says. “When you show that you understand your child's emotion, he will feel an instant bond with you.”
3. Respond competently to your child’s emotional need. “Help your child name and manage her emotion,” says Webb. “Give her simple, age-appropriate rules to live by. For example, if your child grabs her brother's toys in order to anger him, you might talk about how frustrating it is to have a younger brother and have to share everything.”
4. Teach self-forgiveness by modeling compassion. “When your child makes a poor choice or mistake, help him understand what part of the mistake is his, what part is someone else's, and what part is the circumstance,” Webb says. “That helps him figure out how to correct his mistake without feeling blame from you or automatically blaming himself.”
5. Show your child that you like as well as love her. “Warm, caring hugs, laughter and truly enjoying your child's personality all go a long way toward conveying that feeling to your child,” she says. “Knowing that she's loved is not the same as feeling loved.”
6. Don't miss small opportunities to give attention. “Spontaneously give your child a hug when you notice he looks sad,” Webb says. “Ask her if she's OK if you think she might be upset. Spend extra time with your child when you feel he needs it.”
7. Help children care for themselves. “As a parent, you can help your child learn self-discipline by teaching him to care for himself,” she says. “Show him how healthy food makes him feel good, and junk food makes him feel lethargic and bad. Help him find physical activities that keep his body fit and his mood buoyant. And enforce a regular sleep schedule that creates energy and good coping skills the next day.”