Often as a psychiatrist I have parents coming to me with children who have temper tantrums, anger issues and other maladaptive behaviours. The main concern of the parent apart from behaviour remodelling of the child is their own conduct during the meltdowns. Parents either often give in to the demands of the child or resort to using threats to punish to stop the tantrums, both of which are not in the best interest of the children. When this is pointed out to parents they say “What to do doctor? Nothing else works“.
Usually the psychiatrist/therapist in such cases suggests Behaviour therapy or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) which is specific to the behaviour being addressed. The model is very good for changing the behaviours but still many parents struggle with what to do in the moment of the meltdown. Oftentimes parents give in because they are not able to regulate the child, since at that given moment the parent is unable to put in as much energy as is required.
Here I am going to discuss a simple principle which will help parents to navigate such moments with more confidence and clarity. It springs from the EFL(education for life) approach by Swami Kriyananda which now has a rich tradition. The principle itself is very simple and works regardless of the behaviour being addressed. It also works pretty well in transcending anger and fearful moments.
What we need to do is to identify the energy of the child and uplift it rather than being drawn in it. When our children are having such moments usually their energy/consciousness is heavy and we get drawn in and respond with irritation, anger and threat. Instead what needs to be done is something that will shift the energy and uplift the mood in the present. This is the basic principle behind all anger management techniques, be it counting to ten, taking a nature walk or taking a deep breath. The chaotic energy that is present needs to be shifted.
There are some simple ways of doing that. Offering your child a glass of water/lemonade and giving them something to eat (foods,snacks they like) helps to shift the energy. It doesn’t mean giving in to ordering pizza or a lavish dinner from outside. It can simply be a toffee or a cookie, fruits or nuts. A hug, pat or a loving touch goes a long way. Changing the environment is a very effective tool for shifting our energy. It can be in the form of a walk in the park but it can also be as simple as going to the other room or going to the altar in your house. It can be laying down colouring books or parents sitting to paint themselves. Music and movement are two other great tools which can quickly transform our mood. Movement can be in the form of dance or simply jumping or swirling around to shake off all the chaotic energy, something which children naturally do.
Music as a tool to transform mood needs special mention. In Hindu tradition it’s believed playing mantras or devotional music in the house has a purifying effect on the energy of the house and attracts good vibes. And so playing uplifting music can shift the energy very quickly. In my own experience I have found instead of trying to reason myself out of a bad mood or fighting it, if I listened to cosmic chants of Paramhansa Yogananda or music of Swami Kriyananda, the shift from feeling dejected to inspired was much more effectively and quickly achieved. If one plays a musical instrument that also helps in shifting the energy. If you can play one of Paramhansa Yogananda’s devotional chants( that is to say uplifting chants and bhajans which has a connect) , they can take you to a calm state much more readily.
Focusing on the breath is an important and easily accessible tool. Taking a bath and watering the plants are other options. The idea is to shift the energy of the child from where it is currently, focused on lack, fear, anger, demands not being fulfilled. Parents can read more on how to address the demands of the child in another chapter called ‘Demand Dealing’.
One important pitfall to avoid is not to talk about the sore point during the heat of the moment. Do not get into the mode of trying to pour logic into your child when your child is upset. Accept that this is not the time for it. Time for that is later and you can read more on it in ‘Scientific Approach to Correction of Mistakes’. When addressing fear or anger if you keep thinking ‘I will not get angry, I can face the dark’, you will find more often than not it doesn’t work because our focus is on the anger/object of fear which is to say the energy is still around the negative. Instead what we need to do is find a different focus for the energy to move. It can be a song, a project, a positive person, something motivational you read, a mantra. When you have a Guru, the Guru can become the focus.
Many of us have this experience that we think we will respond better next time but when the next time comes we are thinking ‘I will not get angry this time’ but before long we have done it again. We get carried away into the heat of the moment, get involved with the chaotic energy of our child because we were not in touch with our own calm centre. The time to acquire skills, sharpen our tools and practice is not when we are on the battlefield but before it. There are many techniques to do that but my personal favourite and the most effective in my opinion is meditation.
So I invite everyone to take the first step on the journey of finding our own calm centre which can then become a safe anchor for our children. To lead a life of simplicity anchored in God, in high thinking as these provide lasting peace. Granted it’s not an easy choice and the path seems arduous and uncertain but when other options are failing us it’s worth a try. Here’s to that calm centre within each of us.