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Part One: How to help my child when they act out


As a play therapist and psychologist who works with kids, I frequently get asked, "what do I do when my child has an outburst, (or a tantrum, or an emotional explosion, or… you get the idea). I will offer my response here. I will start by addressing three choices I believe a parent must make in every moment of difficulty for their child:

The first choice, "will I give my child attention for this behavior?" I believe the answer should be yes! Determining whether a child is acting up intentionally to get attention does not matter, either way, they need help. And, giving attention does not have to reward any negative behavior. Read further to learn how to offer attention without rewarding negative behaviors.

Second, I believe the parent has to decide, "will I connect with my child or oppose negative

behaviors? " This is tough, and I can imagine my readers saying, "I want to do both." Your child will likely understand only one, which will you choose? Read further to learn how to connect with your child without accepting misbehavior (not accepting behaviors is different from opposing behaviors).

Third, the parent has to determine if they will react to the difficult behaviors or respond to the child's hidden need/want/ or pain. Reacting will likely be your own hidden needs/wants/ & pain directed toward your child. Reacting will happen, and is normal. Responding will be hard work done intentionally.

OK, what these three choices tell us for helping our children in their times of difficulty:

  1. Children need attention in times of difficulty.

  2. Children need a relational safe space to share vulnerably & explore new ways of coping

  3. We need to help ourselves to be of best service, and we need to model the calm response we want children to learn