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It can be hard to consider hugging our child when they are acting out. There’s this fear of reinforcing the behavior, and so we have been taught to punish, remove toys, ignore the behavior, and respond with a poker face.

But consider a time when you had a rough day, snapped at your partner over something trivial, and all you felt you really needed to melt away the stress was a hug or some comfort.

Did you ask for a hug? If so, then what a gift you and your partner have to be vulnerable and communicate so openly. If you didn’t ask, think about why? Maybe what you needed did not even cross your mind. Maybe you were too heated and on the defense to ask.

When we are in a heated moment or feeling a surge of our emotions, it makes it much harder to think rationally. When considering our children and how they are developing their prefrontal lobe (the part that does a lot of the planning and decision-making), it then makes sense that they have much more difficulty in expressing themselves calmly when under stress.

As adults, we have verbal skills and a more developed brain on our side to help us practice expressing our needs and ourselves in a calm manner. Children are still developing the skills and the brain power… so this is where parents and caretakers can help children bolster positive coping to manage feelings more effectively.

When offering a hug or verbal reassurance to calm your child, you are not automatically reinforcing their behavior. You are actually helping them calm down so that they can hear you better.

From a simple hug your child can experience these messages from you:

“You mean the world to me.”

“I love you no matter what.”

“I see that you are still learning and I am here to help you.”

“You are not alone in this.”

“I see how hard this is for you right now.”

“I accept your feelings.”

“Your feelings do not define you.”

“You are not defined by your mistakes.”

“I want to help you learn new ways.”

“You can count on me.”

When you continuously show your child that they are not “bad” even when acting out, the recording that is in their mind changes so that they know they don’t need to be stuck in being or acting in a “bad” way.

They become more capable of calming themselves down as they hear a new recording (“I am still lovable, and I can do good”). And as parents, we become much more effective in helping them learn new ways of behaving because they are in a calm and connected state that helps them receive and process the information we give them. Also, when we are connected with our children, they respect us more and want to do well.

Making changes to parenting can be difficult, especially when we have been given the same message for decades about how to stop “bad” behavior. This is a process and requires us to be mindful of how our perceptions of our children’s behaviors can impact our response. And it can be extremely challenging when we find ourselves getting heated in the moment with our child.

So take a breather, talk to someone you trust about your feelings, and don’t forget to hug yourself. Parenting is a journey, and we are all in this together.

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