Mother helps young son with school backup and uses a parenting framework to help him with big feelings

Four Formulas: Parenting Frameworks  

Back to school is in full swing this Fall. For your family, that might mean more big feelings, challenging behaviors, and “not now’s.” It might seem like everything from math to making friends feels all too tough. Parents often come to me looking for a handbook, asking what-to-do or what-to-say to help their child through these tough moments. Although there is not one right answer, I hope the following “formulas” will give you some direction in any situation this school year!

1. Support = Acceptance of Feeling + Confidence in Coping

Use this formula when you want to show support to your child dealing with big feelings. Start by validating their feeling, accepting just how real it feels to them. Get at how much they care; how much it matters to them. Then, express your confidence in their ability to work through that feeling and situation. [It might sound like this: “I hear that you are very nervous about starting soccer this season. You don’t know anyone on the team yet, and making a caring friend to play with is very important to you. I believe you can do hard things. I am confident that you can use your kindness to say hello to one new person there.”]

2. Handling Challenging Behavior = (Behavioral Limit + Emotional Validation) + (Provide Alternatives + Address Coping Deficit)

Big feelings often show up as challenging behavior. Wondering how you can manage it? Set a firm, yet compassionate limit on the misbehavior while validating the underlying feeling, even if you feel otherwise or see things differently. All feelings are ok; all behaviors are not. Then offer safe, alternative ways for your child to more appropriately self-express or cope. Circle back outside of the moment to, for instance, build impulse control or frustration tolerance skills through play. Teach and model what they can do with a strong feeling or urge, rather than what they can’t. [It might sound like this: “I won’t let you bang your desk. I get it. You are frustrated that your homework is tricky. You can say “Mom, I need help” or step away from your desk to take a five-minute breathe break.”]

3. “Not Now” = Yes + No + Yes

I imagine you’re on a tight schedule and can’t grant your child’s every wish. Is your child easily triggered by the sound of “no?” Create a yes-sandwich! First, join your child by hearing their desire and seeing the fun. Next, draw the boundary. Lastly, tell them when the answer will be “yes.” [It might sound like this: “I love playing with you! Right now, I’m unavailable. After dinner, I will be able to play. Can’t wait to see what game you choose for us then!”] 

4. Handling Conflict = Narrate + Build Awareness + Model Response + Get Curious

Disagreements and hurt feelings are unfortunately inevitable. Use this formula to show empathy while handling interpersonal conflict, such as between siblings or with peers on the playground. Upon encountering your child, objectively narrate what you think you observed. Teach them how to read the other’s emotional cues. Model an empathetic response, which may or may not include an apology. Ultimately, get curious with the intent to resolve the conflict. Improve problem solving skills by helping your child learn how to think, instead of telling them what to think or do. [It might sound like this: “You felt frustrated waiting your turn and grabbed the toy from his hand. Now he is crying. When someone is crying it usually means they don’t like that. Model: I’m sorry I snatched the toy from you with angry hands while you were still using it. Hmm, how can we make this better for both of you?”] 

I hope that these formulas bring clarity, confidence, and consistency to your home—that you and your partner now have a framework to guide you both as you approach a variety of challenging situations! Which will best suit your family’s needs? 

*For more information and ideas, you too may reference the work of Dr. Becky Kennedy at Good Inside, Dr. Eli R. Lebowitz on parenting child and adolescent anxiety, Transforming Toodlerhood by Devon Kuntzman, and Curious Parenting to name a few.