Let’s talk about dealing with kids when they’re upset. Today I want to teach you a method that will soothe an angry or out-of-control child in a way that lets you stay in control, too.
It’s called IR-YR. It stands for “I Regulate; You Regulate.”
IR-YR is a way to help when a difficult time occurs between two people. You can use it in any relationship, not just when working with children.
But I’ll use the parent-child model to illustrate how it works because that’s where I’ve seen the most profound changes happen.
When Children Are Angry or Acting out
When your child is angry or acting out, it’s safe to assume he is—for that moment—anxious and unable to manage his emotions. As a parent, you want to communicate with him, to get him to calm down.
But unfortunately, our child’s outburst often makes us anxious or angry ourselves. We end up feeling deregulated, and we may think to ourselves something like:
- “There must be something wrong with you.”
- “I don’t like you.”
We don’t usually say those words, however. What we actually say often comes out more like this:
- “You’re acting like a baby!”
- “Stop it or there’ll be no TV tonight!”
- “Stop complaining or I’ll really give you something to complain about!”
In addition to our harsh words, the tone of our voice may also imply there is something wrong with the child.
We don’t mean to do these things. We often feel bad after we’ve done them. But then we think to ourselves, “What choice did I have? I had to make this stop…”
How Children Respond
Our child will respond from a place of shame. He’ll either resentfully comply (although that usually stops happening pretty quickly). Or he’ll become even more angry and more rebellious.
The child feels the pain of your critique. He is hurt internally, but he will fight back externally.
When this happens, both you and your child are talking from a place of anxiety and anger. You’re fighting to feel heard, and you both want to be listened to.
But unfortunately, no one’s able to hear anything anymore.
I Regulate, You Regulate
Let’s try a new way to respond to this situation.
The next time your child starts to act out, I very much want you to reach out to your child. I want you to reach out in a way that’s going to help him regulate himself.
But, before you can reach out to him, you first need to reach into yourself. Before you react to your child, regulate yourself first.
Stop. Breathe. Take a moment before you respond.
Simply take a few breaths, tell yourself that you care about yourself and about your child. If you start to feel panicked thoughts such as “If he keeps acting this way, he’ll end up in jail!” stop and calm yourself again.
Don’t fix anything externally. The first step is internally regulate yourself. (Learn more about regulating in our earlier blog post.)
Truly, nothing matters more than you being able to regulate yourself. Otherwise, you’ll be trapped in a race with your shoelaces tied together, getting nowhere fast.
Now, after you’ve regulated your own emotions, see what your child is trying to tell you with her behavior.
Get down on one knee (if your child is young), make eye contact, and say, “I want to hear you. Tell me about what’s happening.”
If your child yells at you, stay regulated, and say to them, “I hear how angry you are and how important it is that I understand ____.”
Speak to your child from this regulated place. Let them be heard. Nothing calms a child more than being heard.
Sometimes it will take a while, especially when you first try this, but it works.
When you talk to your son or daughter, be authentic. Kids have a great lie detector, and they know when people are being disingenuous.
Be genuine. If you can’t regulate in the face of your child’s anger, let your child know, “I’m having such a difficult time with your words. My feelings are getting so hurt that I feel myself getting angry, and I don’t want to. I need a moment to calm down.” And take one.
Once you’ve done that, get back to the task of calming your child through genuine, regulated presence and really great listening. As you communicate with your child in a way that helps her feel heard, it will help them calm their hurt or angry feelings.
Now you know something very simple and true: IR-YR.
I regulate, then I help you regulate. And then we can get to the business of talking to each other.
Now we can have a real relationship.
Visit Carl or one of the other therapists at Heart-Centered Counseling at their new location in the heart of Old Town at 320 W. Olive Street, Fort Collins, CO, 80521. To schedule a free consult, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 970-498-0709.