ASK DR. JOANETTE
I created this space for us to chat about what is working for you, not working for you, or not working as well as you had hoped. Please send me your parenting questions and/or challenges so we can find solutions together. You are not alone.
Question: I know it is healthy to let my child be frustrated or angry. I am working on helping my son not hit his one-year-old brother. I am trying to get them to play nice. My son gets mad when I don’t want him to hit his brother.
Answer: Letting our children express their negative feelings doesn’t mean you don’t have firm boundaries.
Before I answer the question, I want to acknowledge the thoughtfulness you bring to your parenting. Thank you. Yes, it is healthy for your children to be frustrated and have all their feelings. However, letting your son have all of his feelings doesn’t mean that you don’t have boundaries. You can have very firm boundaries around safety. These boundaries are non-negotiable – no wiggle room here boundaries. You would stop him every time he started to run into the street. You also want to stop him when he hits his brother. How would that sound and look? When he starts to hit her brother, stop him. This may mean you have to gently hold his arms or hands. Tell him, “I won’t let you hit your brother,” and immediately follow it with, “but you can be as angry as you want.” Saying, “I won’t let you” vs. ” We don’t hit in our family,” tells him you are in charge as a firm, steady, loving Dad. You might also have to move his younger brother out of harm’s way.
It is scary to a child when no one can keep them safe. Letting your son lovingly know you are in charge by giving him firm, non-negotiable boundaries around safety helps him feel safe. When a child feels safe, they can better regulate their emotions. Once he is calm, you can come up with ideas to help him better express himself when his big emotions of frustration and anger well up inside and come out in his arms and hands as hitting his brother.
Question: My daughter, who is two years old, get’s mad and won’t play sometimes. She goes to her room and slams the door and say’s I’m mad right now. I call it taking a break, but is this healthy? This normally happens when she is told no or when I am trying to redirect the situation.
Answer: It is essential for kids to have and feel all of their feelings even the negative ones.
When your daughter is overwhelmed by her anger at being told no, yes, it is healthy for her to express her feelings. Kids express negative emotions in many different ways, and one way your daughter expresses her frustration and anger is by going to her room and slamming the door. The anger builds up inside of her and comes out in the form of a slammed door. If the door slamming bothers you, discuss other ways she can express her anger once she calms down. i.e., Throw or punch a pillow. Then practice these ways when she isn’t angry.
You can say, “Hey, I noticed that when you get frustrated or angry, your feelings come out as a slammed door. What if you threw a pillow onto the floor or punched that pillow before you threw it to the floor? Let’s practice punching and throwing some pillows onto the floor!” Practice this outside of the moment. You may need to have several practice sessions before she remembers not to slam the door to her room. If your daughter is a deeply feeling kid, the approach may feel too intense—model in play the situation with some stuffed animals or toys when she isn’t upset.
Question: I’m worried that my kids spend too much time on their devices. Nothing I do will pull them away from their obsessive use of technology. I feel like they don’t want to do anything else, especially with me. And anything I do to try and break this habit usually results in a tantrum. What can I do about this?
Answer: Quality time with Mom, Dad, Grandma, or Grandpa is the best and will always win over the devices if you make it about them.
Let’s not forget, children’s brains at this age are hungry for engagement. The reason they turn to the devices is to satisfy that need for engagement.
One way to have a pattern interrupt is to get down on the floor with your kids. Be present with them. And if you can’t get into their world, bring them into yours in a meaningful way that allows them to spend time with you away from their devices. This means that you’ll have to put your devices down as well.
During the Pandemic, families have experienced a considerable increase in screen time for the kiddos due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Many kids spend hours a day in a virtual classroom. Technology can be essential for maintaining contact with family and friends. It was an excellent way to keep in touch with my grandkids and kids during the Pandemic. Our grandkids used facetime and kids’ messenger to talk with us. As the guidance during the pandemic changes, it is essential to refocus on how much screen time our kids have and how they use their screen time.
Sit down, grab a book, and enjoy some quality bonding time together. You will be amazed at how fast the time goes and how much fun you can have together. You might even be more surprised when your child starts wanting to spend time with you instead of their devices.
When appropriate for your child to be online, here is some excellent content that you can feel good about your child watching.
- Dr. Joanette MD Storytime https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJIyTY8xRo93snPJrXG4NSw
- Storytime with Anne and Rocco: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvXV5ifZ3zwk8vy5HLT86TQ
- Pokemon – A Cosmic Kids yoga adventure https://youtu.be/tbCjkPlsaes
Question: With COVID, my kids have spent most of their time indoors, and I’m worried they don’t get enough exercise.
Answer: Go outside and play with them. It’s good for you too.
Take them outside. I understand that you may not have that option available to you. If you can’t go out, put on a kids’ dance video and “shake it.” Your kids want you to invest time with them and be active. The other morning I was on the phone with my daughter, and all the grandkids were outside. But not for long. It was less than 5 minutes before they were all back inside with various excuses for why they “needed Mom” to go outside and play with them. I should add the backyard/play area is fenced in and visible from the house.
Play with them. It is good for you as well as your kids. I’m always amazed at how much energy it takes to keep up with an active toddler. If you don’t have a yard or play area, take a family walk together or go to the park. If your kids are old enough to ride a bike, go on a bike ride.
Designate a place in your home as the “fun” zone – a place for play and creativity.
Question: My two-year-old frequently melts down with a temper tantrum, and I don’t know what to do.
Answer: Prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Now I am sure you also want to know how to cash in on that pound of cure. The best cure for temper tantrums is to understand the most common reasons kids meltdown and do what you can to remove these reasons.
Here are the most common ones: Your toddler is…
- Feeling Frustrated
- Wanting attention.
- Wanting something (such as a treat or toy).
- Want to avoid doing something (such as picking up their toys or leaving the park).
You won’t be able to prevent all temper tantrums. Temper tantrums are one of the ways that kids communicate and are a natural part of maturing. However, you can take steps to reduce the number and frequency of their temper tantrums. Here are some ideas:
- Give them choices within reason. Make sure you are ok with both options, though.
- Prepare them for changes in activities. Transitions are difficult for toddlers, so communicate ahead of time and prepare your toddler for transitions such as leaving the house or the playground.
- Sleep and food. Make sure your child has good nutrition, enough to eat, and gets enough sleep. Rest is how your toddler keeps their brain healthy, functioning, and growing. Without sufficient sleep, our ability to understand and manage our emotions is depleted.
Question: Sometimes, my child wakes up screaming and is inconsolable no matter what I try to do. What can I do to help him calm down?
Answer: It sounds like he might be experiencing a night terror.
Night terrors occur about 2-3 hours after a child falls asleep when transitioning from REM (deep sleep) to no-REM (less deep sleep). They are caused by over-stimulation of the nervous system. A night terror is similar to nightmares but far more dramatic. A child will not remember a night terror in the morning. A child having a night terror may…
- Shout out or scream in distress
- Suddenly sit up in bed
- Have a faster breathing and a quicker heartbeat
- Thrashing around
- Acting upset and scared
After a few minutes, they will lay back down and fall back to sleep. Although night terrors are very distressing to the parents, it is best to wait patiently and if your child is thrashing around, make sure she doesn’t hurt herself. Don’t try to wake your child up from a night terror, as she will fall back to sleep on his own. If night terrors happen frequently, talk to your child’s doctor about a possible referral to a sleep specialist.