Question:

My son, I just love him so much, I think he should consider an acting career. I am trying to find ways for him to calm down after he gets hurt (parenting an out of control child). Tonight he stepped on a splinter and I had to pull it out. I realize that it probably did hurt badly. I don’t mind if he cries, yells, whatever. But he just seems to enter into some kind of crazy hysterics whenever something like this happens! A lot of times he gets unreasonable, totally out of control. I try soothing talk, acknowledging his pain, and sympathizing. Maybe I go overboard? I try to get him to take deep breaths but he just cries “I can’t I can’t!” Do you think it’d work better if he practiced this just during a *normal* time? What can I do to help him stay calm, or help him calm down when he is hurting?

Answer:

In terms of parenting an out of control child and parental response to kids in general, there are basically 3 approaches:

  1. Parent as drill sergeant (too strict)
  2. Parent as rescue pilot (too permissive)
  3. Parent as consultant (balanced)

The drill sergeant parent will look at a (not seriously) hurt child and respond with,”It’s not that bad,Don’t cry, Don’t be a baby, just take care of it, big boys don’t cry, suck it up”, etc. This parent will not be physically or emotionally available to the child. The child will typically misinterpret this parental response with ideas such as, “I need to hide my feelings” or “My parent doesn’t care” or “When I’m hurt I need to keep it to myself, or not seek help” or possibly “If I get louder and more obnoxious, maybe they’ll see me”. When parents respond to with this style over time, children develop mistaken beliefs like, “I can’t show my feelings”, “I have to take care of myself, do it alone”, “There’s no one there for me but me” etc. As adults, these are the people who don’t seek out a doctor until they’re half-dead, or hide their feelings from people, or have an attitude that “I have to look out for #1 (me) because no one else will”.

The parent as rescue pilot responds dramatically, “Oh my God! Let me see! Oh, you poor baby! Mommy will make it all better! Here let me kiss it for you and make it all better, You want some ice cream? Shhh. it’s OK, it won’t hurt anymore!” Typically, kids eat-up this response. They respond with even more drama, loving every minute of all this love and attention. Kids who weren’t even hurt that bad become sobbing, helpless and needy, basking in all your love and attention. These children develop beliefs such as “It pays to get hurt, I can get lots of love and attention this way”, “Even if it’s not that bad, if I play it up I might get a treat”, “When I get hurt, someone else will make it better for me” or “I don’t know how to take care of myself, other people are there for that”. As adults these people tend to be accident prone, needy and hypochondriacs.

The parent as consultant brings a balanced response to the situation, “OW! That looks like it hurts!” wait for the child’s response, they will tell you the degree of hurt involved, either, “Aw, it’s not that bad” or “Yeah! It really stings!” Either way, they feel you care. Then the consultant says, “What do you think I would do if I fell down and scraped up my knee like that?” or “What do you think you need to do to fix it or make it feel better?” the child typically looks upward, searching their brain, THINKING! Thinking is a good thing for kids to do, and as consultants, we teach them how to think out solutions. If they are really hurt bad, we might need to make suggestions, if not you can follow their lead and make sure they remember all that needs to be done. If she says, “Put a Band-Aid on it?” you can say, “Yes great! And it looks like there is some dirt, what else do you need?” she says, “A towel to wash it off?” you say, “Great idea! And what can you put on it so it doesn’t get infected?” she says, “Spray that stuff on it?” you say, “Great! How about if I go get the stuff and help you fix it up?” This child comes to believe things like, “When I get hurt, people care about my feelings” and “When I get hurt, I can figure out what needs to be done”, “I am loved and capable of taking care of myself”, feeling loveable AND capable is one essence of self-esteem.

Good Luck! Deb

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2 Comments

  1. Miller Says Reply

    Ha. Ha.ha. I have an a.d.d child all 4 of them actually. 2 play the worse dieing scene out. They live in seperate homes those two, one with me one with my mom. She’s now 7. It’s daily. Hair brushing left me wanting my own little girls head shaved bald. For a while I thought it was just her. But I now know something else is going on here. She’s got thin hair I keep it short. I do NOT brush it unless we are running behind. I’m a.d.d as well and so this is a fun box of craziness. We use conditioner when we can.. her hair turns stringy with it and spray detangler. But she can always wear it down and thatis no fun. She begs she pleads . The fit starts before she’s even in position. Don’t get me started on a very superficial scrap or nothing evident but you would think a monster must be clawing out of the boo boo. That’s where we see shower time. Just shoot me. She’s not dumb she knows she can get bandaid when she wants. If I asked her those type of questions she would scream and cry no no no no its going to hurt its going to hurt I don’t want you to do it I don’t want you to do it. If I mentioned getting the supplies all hell breaks loose even further as if it didn’t already seem like hell. I’ve tried allowing her to do the doctoring nuh uh. We have loads of bandaids colors characters. She could give a sh** less. This tactic is for the bird that wrote it. I don’t see any licensure accompanying your name with your answer. Assume your just a mother at least. I hope. Good thought process but not for kids w behavioral disorders. It won’t work and the screaming is enough to wonder when your mind will just shut down on you and put you in a nut house. I had to post for those in my situation. Ppl have no idea how real ad.d is and the possibilities that can steam from it. They may read this try fail and feel alone. But they shouldn’t.

    • Deborah Godfrey Says

      Dear Miller,

      You sound frustrated, over-worked and on the brink of exhaustion (or insanity!) While I certainly can empathize with the intensity of parenting adhd kids, you would be surprised how much my “tactics” have worked for parents with kids with ADD, ADHD, ODD, ETC… While I agree, not all parenting tools work with all kids, having more tools ALWAYS helps, and gaining a new perspective ALWAYS give a parent a break and a new place to start.

      Most parents don’t have very good parenting skills to begin with, and add to that a child with a diagnosis, and you have described yourself perfectly. I like to give parents such as you ideas that can help you figure out which part of the child’s behavioral issues are (or could be) made worse by your parenting style, and which are bona fide-diagnosis-related-problems-parent-can’t-redirect. When the basic parenting skills are in place, then getting the help of a professional skilled with your particular child’s diagnosis is WAY more helpful.

      Try my teleclass, you may find some fun ideas to make your parenting more rewarding and less crazy-making.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.

      Happy Parenting!
      Deb

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