Sometimes it’s important to go back to the basics. It’s so easy to forget how significant eating enough food, having enough water, and getting enough exercise are for our mental health. Being hungry is a recipe for dysregulation, no matter what age you are. Helping your child identify hunger cues at a young age is a beneficial tool in increasing their self-awareness.
Having planned snack breaks, giving your child easy access to nutritious snacks, keeping snacks in the car and periodically checking in with your child to see if they are hungry are all ways to integrate making sure your child is getting enough to eat to stay fulfilled, energized, and regulated. When a child's blood sugar drops and a hangry attitude is on the rise, reasoning and negotiation are ineffective.
If your child is angry, the first priority should be to help them regulate their emotions. You know your child best, do they need extra affection and for you to sit close to them? Words of affirmation? Or do they need space and alone time to cool off? Coping tools can also be helpful such as counting backwards from ten, taking deep breaths, or moving their body in a safe way to blow off some steam.
Although we don't want to shield our children from feeling large emotions, it can be helpful to set expectations ahead of time, specifically for a situation that may typically push your child’s buttons. For example, before playing a game that your child dislikes losing, saying something such as “I know you’re excited to play ___ and sometimes losing can make you feel angry. It’s okay to be angry, but it is not okay to hit your brother.” Let your child know it is okay to be angry, but not all reactions (such as hitting) are okay.
Loneliness can be trickier to recognize than anger and hunger. When a child is feeling a lack of connection, they may act out in negative, attention seeking ways. Sometimes when a child is acting out, what they really need is connection. It’s important to be intentional with the time you spend with your child, through planning set times to spend together, and engaging in activities you genuinely enjoy doing together. Being intentional with the time you spend with your child decreases the likelihood they will act out due to feeling a lack of connection and attention.
There is a lot of truth to the common saying “they’re just overtired!” We ALL need sleep, regardless of our age. It’s crucial to make sure your child is getting enough sleep. Often kids are tired from a lack of good sleep, but busy, overstimulating days also make children tired. There are many things besides sleep that can help a child feel relaxed and rejuvenated. If it’s too early for bedtime, take some time to read a book with your child, listen to calm music, or do some fun stretching!
Oftentimes, you will find yourself answering ‘yes’ to at least one of these questions. It’s important to understand that it’s impossible to control every situation. Rather than identifying how you can be in more control, focus on what you can do to be more proactive in helping your child identify their needs. As a parent, following the HALT method can be helpful in handling your own emotions amidst your child’s tantrums, and to help you figure out what you need in that moment to regulate as well. Utilizing the HALT method to take care of your own needs is a great way to model self awareness.