After a long day, your kid blowing their top may easily lead to you blowing yours. Keep the lids on and the night calm with this simple, five-step process from a local child therapist.

By Shannon Øverland
Photo by Carrie Hill

Let’s face it — parenting is not easy nor for the faint of heart. Work, bills, and other family commitments can sometimes create a barrier to the steps that are needed to build a healthy relationship with your child. But small steps can make a big difference. Want to try and ease the load? Ask yourself: Are you a “Take 5” parent?

The “Take 5″ parent takes at least 2-5 minutes to do the following when confronted with a challenging situation from their child. By taking these five steps, you can actively help  improve your communication and relations with your child.

1. Stop

As a parent, you may feel as if you are in a whirlwind at a moments notice, with adrenaline-pumping daily activities such as working in or out the home, picking up and dropping off, shopping, planning, organizing, and let’s not forget making a nutritious dinner. When your child begins to protest (e.g., school or daycare refusal, picky eaters at food time, sibling fighting, and homework complaints) take this time to immediately stop yourself in order to not give a knee-jerk reaction to an issue that could possibly ignite a powder keg and leave you feeling upset, drained, and defeated.

2. Breathe

Taking a second to do something that we do automatically is actually quite helpful. By controlling the breath, you are actually controlling your mind. How is that connected? When your breaths are shallow and fast, your mind is not at ease, whereas when your breaths are smooth and deep, your mind will become calm.

3. Listen

We all probably know the difference between active listening and just “hearing” what your child has said. If you aren’t sure, being an active listener allows you to actually make sense of and understand what your child is saying. It allows them to “be heard,” which can help to stave off many a verbal power play. Hearing is a physical ability, which takes no skill. There are so many benefits to practicing the listening skill (yes, it is a skill). It allows you to better understand your child and what they are requesting from you. It allows you to build rapport with your child. And it helps you to demonstrate your support for them. Practice maintaining eye contact, nod your head, and try not to interrupt. Acknowledge and summarize what you heard your child say (“You said that you didn’t want to do your homework, because you think you can’t do it?”). Paying attention to your child’s non-verbal cues can also help to create a fuller picture (Does your child look afraid, sad, happy?).

4. Empathize

It has been noted that parents that practice more empathy with their children will strengthen their relationship. It is also noted that children of empathetic parents can manage their own difficult emotions and engage in more self-control, not get angry as often, and are more relaxed. This spills over into academic achievement and positive social skills, which means fewer behavioral problems in the long run. When parents give empathy it doesn’t mean that the negative behaviors are being condoned; it only offers an opportunity to redirect your child to practicing better behaviors. (“I understand that you are angry and are frustrated that your younger brother needs more help. I also know that you can talk about it in a respectful tone.”)

5. Act

Once all of the steps have been practiced and completed, you will be at your loving best and can better act upon any challenge you will be faced with.

These five steps are excellent ways to avoid most conflicts and to promote a loving, healthy relationship with your wonderful child.

Shannon Overland is a child therapist, nationally certified parenting coordinator, and certified family group decision making facilitator with more than ten years of experience helping children with behavioral challenges. Learn more about her practice, serving Philadelphia and its surrounding areas.