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Dr. Rosina McAlpine: The “two-step process” for teaching kids to manage their emotions and solve problems

This interview is part of How To Get Kids To Listen: Leading International Parenting Experts Reveal Their Best Secrets For Getting Kids To Cooperate, an ebook containing a collection of interviews I did with parenting experts from around the world.

I asked each expert one simple question: What is your best strategy for getting kids to listen and cooperate? and then listened as they shared their best parenting tips and advice.

How To Get Kids To Listen is available for free download here

In this interview with Dr. Rosina McAlpine, author, family wellbeing expert, and multi-award-winning educator, we talk about her favorite method for helping kids to listen.

What I like most about Dr. Rosina’s “two-step process” is that it teaches my kids a skill they can use to resolve difficult situations now, and for the rest of their lives.

Tags: Dr. Rosina McAlpine

Also in this interview:

About Dr. Rosina McAlpine

Dr. Rosina McAlpine is an author, family wellbeing expert, multi-award-winning educator, and CEO of Win Win Parenting. Win Win Parenting programs support working parents to navigate the work-family interface successfully.

Parents learn practical strategies to manage day-to-day parenting challenges like struggles with technology, emotional outbursts, and keeping calm even in the most volatile situations. Managing work and home life more confidently means less stress and better performance at work.

Dr. Rosina appears regularly in the media and her innovative evidence-based parenting programs support parents working across a variety of corporations, universities, and government organizations locally and internationally.

Dr. Rosina’s facilitation style is positive and passionate with step-by-step practical solutions to support working parents to be their best at home and at work.

You can learn more about Dr. Rosina McAlpine’s work at her website, Win Win Parenting

The two critical steps of Dr. Rosina’s “two-step process”

Dr. Rosina’s favorite method for helping kids to listen and increase cooperation is a strategy she calls the “two-step process”. Using this method means that you first help your child acknowledge and manage their emotions, and then help and guide them to solve the current problem driving their behavior.

Sue Meintjes: What is your favorite technique or strategy that is working well for you or your clients right now to get kids to listen and increase cooperation?

Dr. Rosina McAlpine: The one that I really like I call the “two-step process,” and I love it because you can use it with a toddler, or you can use it with a teenager. So, it’s one technique that you learn, and you teach the kids for life. You don’t have to change it.

Step one is managing emotions, and step two is solving the problem.

Let’s say the children are fighting over one toy, or if a teenager comes home and starts yelling or slamming doors.

Obviously, we’ve got a problem, right? And if you’ve already taught the “two-step process” when a child is little, you can go, “Okay, what’s step one?” And we know that step one is managing our emotions.

How to teach your child to acknowledge and manage their emotions

Dr. Rosina says that to help your child manage their emotions, the first step is to acknowledge the emotion and show empathy, and then teach them strategies that they can use to manage their own emotions.

Dr. Rosina McAlpine: Now, when children are little, parents need to support them. So, the first thing is to acknowledge the emotion.

If it’s a younger child, you could say “I can see you two are upset with each other. You’re fighting over the toy,” or “you are angry” or “you’ve hit your sister or brother.”

And if it’s an older child or teenager, you go, “I get the feeling,” or “Am I right that you’re feeling frustrated or angry or upset right now?” And “I’m sorry for that. I get it. It’s not nice to feel upset.”

That acknowledgement and that empathy is so important.

But then after that, we know that with the “two-step process”, step one is “Manage your emotion”. So, we need a strategy to calm down.

The younger the child, the more help they need with managing their emotions. And teenagers, of course we know go through hormonal brain changes, so they can be very erratic with their emotions.

So, it’s a matter of giving strategies in advance for what to do to manage emotions.

Emotion managing strategies you can teach your kids

Dr. Rosina shares two simple strategies you can teach to your children to help them calm down and manage their emotions.

Dr. Rosina McAlpine: One of my favorite emotion managing strategies for little kids is to imagine that you have a rose in one hand, and then a candle in the other hand. So, you smell the rose, you breathe in deeply, and then you blow out the candle.

And with young children, it works very well because it’s distracting them from what’s going on. They’re smelling the rose; they’re blowing out the candle. And little by little, that fight-or-flight system is coming down.

With older children you might say, “You know what? What do you want to do? What could you do right now?” Asking the question, “What could you do right now to feel better?”

And you can suggest strategies like have a glass of water, lie on your bed, listen to music, go for a walk around the block, take a few deep breaths. Whatever doesn’t trigger the child.

So, step one is to calm down and manage your emotions. And once you’ve got that, then we’re in a fantastic position to problem solve. That’s when we can look at the issue more objectively and more clearly.

How to help your children solve their own problems

Once you have helped your child calm down, Dr. Rosina says that you should help them think of ideas to solve the problem. Use questions that lead them to solving their own problem.

Dr. Rosina McAlpine: This is where I’d make the distinction between talking about a problem and looking for a solution. Big difference. If you keep talking about “I’m being bullied at school and I don’t really like it” and “I’m getting bullied by this person,” and we just keep talking about the same problem we’re never going to find the solution.

So, start by understanding the issue.

“Okay, so what’s exactly happening?” “Alright, I’m being called names.” “Okay. And how is that making you feel? And what would you like to do about that?”

We’ve got some ideas that we can put down on paper. Maybe, “Would you like us to go up to the school and talk?” If that’s an option, then maybe we can do that, if that’s not an option, all right, “What would you do inside yourself? How could you manage this if someone’s being negative to you?” or “Do you have allies at school where you could go and together you could say something to the person who’s bullying you? What are the strategies that we can put into place?”

I really love this technique because it’s a never-ending source of ways in which a young child, primary school, high school, or beyond can overcome issues.

How to deal with children not following agreed-upon house rules

Dr. Rosina shares how to use the “two-step process” to help your children keep to agreements and house rules.

Sue Meintjes: This will work great for “in-the-moment” cooperation. But will this technique work for house rules, for example when children need to stay out of the kitchen, or do housework?

Dr. Rosina McAlpine: We had this conversation yesterday with our son about his agreement about doing his work.

Now, some days they are just not going to feel like it. And that’s okay. If there’s an exception, we have to all understand that at times it’s just going to be not that day, right?

But if that happens two days in a row, let’s say, I will sit down and go, “Okay, we’re at the problem solve stage again.”

So, “We’ve made an agreement. You said, yes, you’re going to empty the garbage, and you said, yes, you’re going to do your homework.” Whatever the commitment was. “And right now, you are not doing it. What do we need to change here? What do we need to do to get that happening again? Do we need a check list? Do you want to swap this job?”

So, it’s about problem solving.

How to use your own commitments to help children keep to their commitments

Dr. Rosina shares how she demonstrates to her children how keeping to her own commitments helps the family, and how to use that to encourage children to keep to their commitments.

Dr. Rosina McAlpine: How do we go forward now? Oftentimes what will really help with our son and other parents that I work with is reminding the children that you’ve made lots of commitments to them that you are keeping as well.

Let’s say for example, you agree to take your children to the zoo, or you agree to take them for a driving lesson, and then you say to them, “Now I’ve made this commitment to you. How would you feel now if I went, ‘Yeah, I don’t feel like it, I don’t want to do that now’?” You might go, “It’s fine if I do it once, but what if I did it day in, day out? Well, you never got to drive, or you never got to go to the zoo. How would you feel about that?”

It’s about showing that you’ve made a commitment and that commitment is an important part of collaborating with the family. Just like I’ve made a commitment to you and if I change that, it hurts you. You don’t like it. And it’s the same for me. If you change that, it hurts me, and it hurts our family.

And oftentimes I’ll also put in, “And if you don’t do it, who do you think needs to do it then? Who’s going to do it?” Right? So, it’s about really helping them understand the implications or consequences of actions. Problem-solve it together.

Why “natural consequences” work better than punishment at helping your children to self-regulate their behavior

Why Dr. Rosina prefers natural consequences instead of punishment, and why consequences that follow naturally from the bad behavior work better than unrelated consequences or punishment.

Sue Meintjes: Do you ever recommend consequences to help kids to listen? Do you think consequences are important?

Dr. Rosina McAlpine: That’s a tricky one. I don’t recommend anything to any parent. And I know you’ll say, “But you are a parenting expert. You’re a parenting educator. What does that even mean?” But that’s how I start every session: I’m here to give you ideas, strategies, and research information. Then you have to put that into practice in your home.

Now, personally, I love natural consequences. Natural consequences would be like, for example, many people have a rule that you don’t eat in the bedroom, or you don’t drink in the bedroom. Because if you drop that food or drop that drink, you then have a big mess in the bedroom, not in the lounge room or the kitchen area where you are eating, right? And so, the natural consequence is that you’ve got to go clean that up. Like you broke the rule, you’ve made a mess, and now you need to clean that up.

So that’s a natural kind of consequence, right? And I like those. I like ones that follow naturally.

Personally, and this is a personal opinion, not a recommendation, I don’t like consequences that have nothing to do with what is going on. So, for example, if a child didn’t take the garbage bin out and then you said, “Okay, I’m not going to give you technology for a month because you are not doing your jobs.”

For me that feels like a punishment, rather than a consequence. So, I prefer things that follow naturally. For example, something that would follow naturally is, “Until your homework is completed, or the garbage is taken out, other activities are off the table.”

That’s like a natural consequence of, “We do this, then we do this, and then we do that.”

I’m not crazy about punishment, but I like natural consequences that flow naturally so that children don’t feel like they’re being punished and they’re learning self-regulation. They’re learning the natural consequences of actions and why we make those decisions. I think that’s important.

Why the notion that “self-care is selfish” is harmful, and why taking good care of yourself first helps your entire family

Dr. Rosina shares why your own self-care is critical to the happiness of your entire family, and how you can use self-care to become a kinder and empathic parent.

Sue Meintjes:Is there anything else that you think parents need to know about this “two-step process”? Is there anything else you want them to know or to keep in mind?

Dr. Rosina McAlpine: One of the things that I think is the most important for parents is self-care. And the reason why I say that is, the more joy, the more happiness, the more health a parent has, the kinder, more empathic, the more loving, the more patient the parent is.

We’ve got to get rid of this notion that self-care is selfish. Because in fact, when I take care of myself, I am the best version of myself, for me, for my family, for my community, for my partner, if I have one, for my workplace.

So, the two-step process only works if the parent is in a good way and managing emotions as well.

I would say, take care of yourself, so that you can be at your best and regulating your emotions, because we know that when we lose it, when we’re angry, when we’re frustrated, when we’re unkind, when we’re not empathic, that’s when everything goes pear shaped.

How to use the “two-step process” to manage your own emotions

Dr. Rosina’s “two-step process” is not just for helping children manage their can also use it for your own self-care.

Sue Meintjes: It seems that we can also use the “two-step process” ourselves to feel better? How do you recommend using this method to manage our own emotions?

Dr. Rosina McAlpine: You acknowledge the emotions. “Yes. This is hard. Toddlers are still fighting. My child will not do their homework.” We have to acknowledge this is hard. Yep. It’s hard.

But what am I going to do about it? Well, I’m going to go have a glass of water. I’m going to go for a walk. I’m going to lie in my bed. I’m going to scream into my pillow. I’m going to do whatever I need to do to get myself on an even keel so that we can resolve this and solve this problem.

But is it easy? No. I’d say to any parent on the planet, being a parent myself and working with thousands and thousands and thousands of parents over many years, “Parenting is a joyful, loving, wonderful, but hard gig.”

Action steps

Here are my action steps that I got from this interview. I hope you’ll find these useful as well:

  • Next time your kids are upset or misbehaving, first acknowledge their emotion, then help them solve the problem
  • Teach your children the “Rose and Candle” breathing technique and remind them to use it to calm down
  • Instead of solving your child’s problem for them, try to ask them questions that lead them to solving their own problem
  • Think of at least one way that you can take care of yourself by putting your needs first
  • Next time you are upset, first acknowledge and accept your own emotions, then use the “Rose and Candle” technique
  • Learn more about Dr. Rosina McAlpine’s work at her website, Win Win Parenting

This interview is part of How To Get Kids To Listen: Leading International Parenting Experts Reveal Their Best Secrets For Getting Kids To Cooperate, an ebook containing a collection of interviews I did with parenting experts from around the world.

I asked each expert one simple question: What is your best strategy for getting kids to listen and cooperate? and then listened as they shared their best parenting tips and advice.

How To Get Kids To Listen is available for free download here