We were at Home Depot a couple weeks ago checking out their after-Christmas sale. My 3-year-old daughter sat in the cart quietly waiting while I studied the options- there were many. I mean, everyone’s going with LED’s these days, but did that mean we’d have that “cool” glow happening, because I was really looking more for a “warm” gingerbread house kind of look. And what about light clips? Did I have to get those too, and which kind would work for our hou-
Something slammed so loud and hard that we both jumped. It was a big warehouse, and the sound resonated loudly and I felt my heart skip a beat. After my brain took a few milliseconds to assure me there was no danger at hand, I looked at my daughter and saw it on her face: WHAT WAS THAT, MAMA?!?!
Suddenly, BANG!! The loud crash happened again! It didn’t help that I jumped again. I’ve always been easily startled. This only added to her anxiety. I saw panic in her eyes and in a flash, I knew what she was going to do. She was going to throw her arms out for me to hold her, begging, Mamaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa hold me hold me I’m scaaaaaared!
Before she could say anything, I suddenly heard myself cut in with a lighthearted smile, “Oh!” I giggled in a high pitched voice, “That was loud!” I said, throwing my hands in the air in exaggerated surprise.
She laughed, so I did it again and then I told her to try it. She did.
Guys, I don’t giggle. I’m just not a giggler. Anyone who knows me can attest to that.
But I do it for the 3-year-old. Anything for the 3-year-old.
I made a fool of myself there in the warehouse… but you know what I didn’t have to do? I didn’t have to calm down a hysterical child (though there are tricks for that too!) AND I won’t have to fight her to go to Home Depot in the future, either. If I hadn’t immediately cut in and shown her an alternate way to react to the startling noise, I think both of those might have happened. She would have started crying, and she would never want to return to the big store with loud noise again.
Every time that loud noise happened again that night, she threw her hands up and exclaimed, “OH MY! THAT WAS LOUD!” and I laughed with her and it became an excuse to act silly instead of be scared.
We went back the next day for more lights, and she didn’t even mention the noise.
It’s a small example, but I think it illustrates my point well. If your kids only know one way to respond, then that’s the only one they’ll do. You might think they have other tools in their toolkit- and they might- but if you don’t show them HOW to use that tool in a specific situation, they might not think to use it. Parents might assume that just because their child knows how to laugh and be silly, they could simply apply it for a non-serious situation like a loud noise in a hardware store. But instead of saying, “It’s not a big deal!” or “It’s just a noise, don’t worry!” Try preempting the negative reaction, showing your child instead an alternative way to respond.
I’ve done similar things to show my child appropriate ways to respond to disappointment, anger, sadness, and even excitement. I mean, as nice as it is that she’s excited to see her grandma, it’s really not pleasant for any of us to hear her shrieking her excitement in the car. So instead of just telling her to stop screaming or be quieter, I offer other effusive ways to express her joy that don’t involve high-pitched noises. For the other emotions, I try to offer her words and sentences to express how she feels, and we talk about other appropriate ways to process the emotion. I don’t just tell her what not to do- I model and walk through what to do.
Hopefully this gives you an idea of ways you can help your young child in stressful situations. If you can quickly think of a desirable alternate reaction to whichever reaction you’re dreading, then try to show them and marvel at how well they pick it up!