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How my son calmed me down and taught me a lesson about parenting

A simple act that changed our evening from bad to great.

I was sooo irritated with my kids tonight at dinner. But then my son did something surprising.

You see, both kids just couldn't sit still during dinner tonight.

They were loudly singing and shouting.

At one point my son was running around the living room, pretending to be a plane or something.

My daughter kept getting up to whisper jokes in my son's ear.

I was super irritated with them. So after dinner, I stood up and made a lovely banana "nice cream" dessert...for me and my husband.

I know it was petty, but I just couldn't get myself to make dessert for my kids after they kept ignoring my requests to calm down and let me enjoy my dinner.

And, I'll admit, it felt good to see the shocked looks on their faces. "Where's our dessert?" they both squealed.

My son stormed into the kitchen. "I'll make my own dessert," he shouted, slamming the fridge doors and stamping his feet.

This situation was beginning to escalate, and tantrums loomed in the future. But then my husband called over my son, and told him "Here's a plan. Instead of nagging or shouting, which will only make mom more angry, let's try to calm her down. Go over to her, and ask her if you can stroke her hair and rub her back."

"No way that's going to work," I thought to myself.

But my son came and sat down beside me, and asked "Mom, can I stroke your hair and rub your back?"

"Okay," I said a bit grumpily.

So my son started stroking my hair. Then he scratched my back. Then he stroked my hair and scratched my back at the same time.

And you know what? It worked!

I ended up making dessert for the kids. And our evening ended much better than it started.

Just seeing the effort he took to make up for his behavior, to calm me down instead of nagging or threatening me, made such a huge difference in how I felt.

But it also made me think about how often I forget this when I deal with them.

It reminded me about advice that Judy Arnall, a certified brain and child development specialist, gave me a while back when I asked her for her best advice to get kids to cooperate:

I would say my best strategy is giving the child a hug. Because it connects you to the child, and everybody listens better after they feel validated. Now, I get lots of pushback from parents on this because they say, “If you give a hug to a misbehaving child, you’re rewarding them.”

Most misbehaving children do it because they’re expressing strong emotions. They’re not calculating that they should misbehave. So, what you’re doing in giving them a hug is calming them down. When you’re both in a space where you’re really calm, then you can talk to them, and problem solve what to do instead.

This advice works for kids, and it works for adults too.

In my interview with Judy, she explains what happens inside your child's brain when they are throwing a tantrum, and how a hug and physical contact calms down their sympathetic nervous system.

She also explains what to say and do after your child has calmed down.