Seven Strategies to Transform Challenging Moments

Sometimes I wish my child wasn’t such a perfect reflection of my emotional state. I was grumpy yesterday and how did my daughter respond? By not listening, not helping, and saying no to everything. I knew that she was just responding to my own “no” energy, yet I somehow couldn’t pull myself out of my funk and become more of a “yes.” Instead, I just simmered in my “everything’s wrong” mentality and watched my child’s behavior become more erratic, clingy, defiant, and reactive as the day wore on.

Usually I can shift things when I feel us heading toward the downward spiral of negativity, but yesterday, not so much. I did finally decide to take the dogs for their walk and being outside in the sunshine, getting some exercise and watching the dogs frolic did help lift my dark mood.

And then I realized that I have bunches of strategies for how to anticipate and transform challenging moments and I can usually use them with creativity and ease. But it seems that at the times I most need them, they’re nowhere to be found.

So this week I’ve decided to write down seven strategies for how to shift things when everything seems to be going downhill. Here they are:

1)    Notice any patterns— He usually melts down in the afternoon around 4pm. She typically freaks out when it’s time to leave the park. He often asks for candy when we’re in the check out line. She wants to watch videos whenever her uncle comes to visit. As you begin to notice the patterns, you might be surprised to learn that your child associates things that seem completely separate to you. This information can be golden if you’re trying to change things up.

2)   Identify what doesn’t work— If you’re unclear what doesn’t work for you, it’s unlikely a change will occur. On the other hand, if you know for certain, exactly what is not working, an alternative will likely come to mind. Don’t be afraid to let your child in on this information. “You know, I’m starting to dread going to the grocery store with you because the last few times you’ve had tantrums. It’s fine with me that you have big feelings, we all do. But I don’t enjoy sitting on the floor in the grocery store while you scream. Do you think we could try something different today?”

3)   Make a plan for a similar future incident— When I was a nanny, one of my charges started biting his brother. I knew that if it had happened once, it was likely to happen again, so his mom, dad, and I came up with a plan to redirect his biting to an inanimate object. We followed up by watching for warning signs, identifying patterns and being on alert at certain times of day.

4)  Take a break— Sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away, take a break, take some deep breaths and focus on myself for a minute or two. Often I find that when I take the time to really reflect on what’s going on for me and I can give myself some empathy or reach out to a friend or loved one for connection, I’m able to shift my energy and my daughter responds in kind.

5)   Be dramatic— I couldn’t seem to get the kids to help clean up their work. I was asking nicely (sort of) and trying to turn it into a game (but my heart wasn’t really in it). Then I finally realized that I could completely freak out about how awesome it was that my student had put a single toy into the basket. “Wow! That’s so COOL! Thank you SO MUCH!!! I LOVE it when you help me out!” Big hugs and cheers ensued. Pretty soon, all the toys were in the basket. Wild, over the top enthusiasm worked here, and I’ve also had success with pretending to faint, running away screaming, or otherwise acting out my internal experience dramatically. It feels good to express myself and it’s fun for kids to see unexpected behavior from the adults in their lives.

6)   Act it out— Children respond incredibly well to puppetry, acting, storytelling and the like. If you’re experiencing a consistent issue with a child, often the best thing to do is to act it out and explore each person’s experience through role-playing and storytelling. Warning: you have to be over the heat of your emotion about the incident or this will come across as lecturing, rather than playing. So take some time, think it over and when you have compassion for your child’s experience, try this one out.

7)   Notice the difference— “Hey, remember how we were working on asking nicely by saying please and then saying thank you when you get what you’ve asked for? Well, I’ve really noticed your efforts. In fact, I was very surprised yesterday when you asked for the sidewalk chalk. You said please without even being reminded!

So, do you use these strategies already? Are there others that work for you that I’ve forgotten to include? I love it when you share your stories, strategies, and ideas with us all. Please let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

And have a great week, Shelly



I like these ideas! I've used most of them before, but haven't really tried 5 or 6 much - always good to get new tools to add to the toolbox!

AwakeShelly moderator

 @Elizabby I'm so glad you like them! Please let me know how adding a dramatic flair works out for you. It has definitely added more laughter to our household! Have a lovely day, Shelly


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