Raising children and toddlers can be stressful. We have a million things to do and it can feel chaotic just getting food on the table. Sometimes there is no time to manage a big emotional child meltdown.
In these moments, we all think how much easier life would be if our children would just use their words! We have all been in that situation where our child is crying, hyperventilating, screaming, hitting, with no coherent words coming out. In this moment, all you want to know is what’s wrong and know how you can help your child.
Most parents have used the phrase “use your words”, only for the melt-down to continue and to escalate. Let me stress that there is NOTHING wrong with using the phrase ‘use your words’, but does it achieve our goal? Most of the time no.
When we use the phrase, “use your words” this implies that our child knows what to say and the exact words to use. Your child may or may not know what to say. They might know what to say but when they are upset, they struggle to formulate a sentence in that moment.
Your child may not have these words in their vocabulary yet or have an emotional understanding developed to know what all those weird feelings inside mean.
When we use the phrase ‘use your words’ we are not only placing a demand on our child that they are not able to meet, causing more frustration, we are also being vague. For a child already struggling to communicate or manage a big emotion, it is a trigger, almost as triggering for an adult when your partner tells you to ‘calm down’ when you are trying to communicate a hard experience.
When we use new phrases or words to support our children develop communication skills, we are not excusing their behaviour, instead, we are modelling, guiding, acknowledging and teaching them what to do next time.
Instead of “use your words”, try:
- It’s not ok to hit me. Mummy/daddy doesn’t understand what you need when you do that. Please tell me or point to what you need.
- I can see you need space. I am just over here and I am here when you need me. But mummy/daddy can’t understand you when you are screaming so I will wait for you to be calmer.
- I can see you are feeling really (emotion). It is so hard to feel like that. That was really disappointing (frustrating, scary, sad etc); it’s OK to cry. Mummy/daddy loves you. I am here to help you.
- Model what they should say: “I want my milk” or “I want my toy”