In a perfect world, parents would always be in a calm frame of mind and ready to deal with whatever a child presents as far as behavior. Of course, none of us live in that world, so the key is to be ready for those times when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed and your child does something that really upsets you. Being about to effectively communicate and teach your child, while in the heat of the moment, is an extremely important skill to have.
Dr. Jacob Boney, owner and clinical director of Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services, recommends a strategy that he often shares with his clients. It’s a modified version of an acronym called “SCARED” from the book, Managing Meltdowns, by Deborah Lipsky and Will Richards. His modified version becomes “SCARE”.
The first letter is “S” for safe. Create an environment where you and your child feel safe. If you’re not safe or the child does not feel safe, then communication and learning are going to be impeded. So, stop moving. Stop yelling or screaming. Stop doing anything that could contribute to a feeling of fear or anxiety. Stay still and stay quiet. Try to breathe at a steady rate and maintain your body posture in as relaxed a position as possible.
Next comes “C” and that stands for calm. If you are upset, you may need to lower your voice and try to slow your rate of speech. Once you have achieved a sense of safety you want to move into there being a feeling of calmness. One of the best techniques for getting your child to interact in a calm manner is for you to model that in your response to whatever behavior your child is presenting.
The letter “A” is for affirm. Make sure that your child knows, in that moment, that you are not upset, or even that you are upset, but that it is not about them but rather about their behavior. You want to affirm that you love them and that you are trying to help them. You want to convey that you are acting in your role as parent and that you are trying to find a solution for whatever has caused the situation.
The “E” in our acronym stands for empathy. Sometimes what children really need is to know that someone understands how they feel and why they are acting in the way they are. Parents not only need to communicate why they are upset with the child’s behavior, but they also need to show empathy. Let the child not only know why you were angry, but also that you understand their perspective, that you get what prompted that behavior. Show that empathy and, again, affirm that you love them.
Finally, the last letter is “R” for routine. When parents are feeling upset and overwhelmed, it’s important to start de-escalating the situation as quickly as possible with the previous steps and move back into a more normal routine. Our lives are intentionally built around routine because it helps us create the consistency, balance and calm of a stable environment.
All parents have experienced being totally caught up in the heat of the moment and often beat themselves up for not handling the situation as well as they believe they should have. The next time you find yourself in this situation, remember — make the environment safe, be as calm as possible, affirm to your child that you are going to find a solution, show empathy and get back into that routine as soon as possible.
Utilizing evidence based practices and the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, the Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services team provides assessment, treatment and consultation for a wide range of behavioral issues. We work with a variety of children, families, schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and local community organizations to provide these services. If you have any questions about parenting skills or would like more information about any of the services offered by our team, please feel free to contact us by phone at 480.410.4040, email us at [email protected], or click here for our convenient online form.