Dr Martha Deiros Collado, Paediatric Psychologist

‘The Words We Speak Become Their Inner Voice’ is a phrase that has resonated with us since we heard it.  We're so excited about our partnership with Dr MDC to help us understand how we use language with our little ones to help raise positive minds.

Thank you so much to everyone who watched our first in our series of our monthly Live Q&A with Dr Martha Deiros Collado.  We have truly been overwhelmed with your response and questions.  It's been an incredible start to the series and we hope you've got as much from it as we have! Because of the amazing response, we couldn't answer all the questions that were sent in so if we haven't covered what you wanted from the interview, please do get in touch hello@littlesenseswholefoods.com and we will do our best to help.

Here are some of Dr MDC’s top tips and questions answered from our conversation on Tuesday 11th August.

VALIDATE  AND ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR FEELINGS!

The most important thing about the words we speak with our children is that we are validating their feelings and what they say.  It’s one of the most important things to do with them, to say to them ‘I hear you’, ‘I see you’ so in terms of the words not to say, things like ‘oh come on, that didn’t hurt’ which is a way of reassuring children, however, what it actually does is dismiss their pain.  As soon as we say ‘that didn’t hurt’, or ‘you’re fine, brush it off’ we’re dismissive of their feelings even though we use those words in an attempt to be reassuring.  What our child needs us to say is ‘oh you hurt yourself darling? Does it hurt?’ and that’s fine. They may not have been hurt, but that’s not important, what is important that they have been seen and heard by us.  Although it’s simple, it's really hard to do. When you feel the need to give them that reassurance in that way, pause.  Take a moment to think about what your child is and you telling you, ‘I feel stupid’, ‘I’m ugly’ it’s instinctive to respond to these comments straight away with ‘you’re not stupid, you’re clever,’ or ‘you’re beautiful’. Be curious about why your child is saying what they’re saying?  Does your child telling you ‘I’m stupid’ mean ‘I’m frustrated, I can’t do this thing’, ‘I need help but I don’t know how to ask for it.’ What is your child communicating with that language? Because as soon as you reassure, you dismiss.  You dismiss the richness of the conversation you could be having with your child and that conversation is what actually helps children develop confidence and self-esteem.  We as parents, need to hear that they’re not happy all the time and we can’t fix it, but we can be there for them and hold them through it so they know we are a safe space that they can come to when things are ‘ugly’, ‘messy’ or not very nice.  Take the time to pause and really hear what they are trying to say. REACTING to something is quick, like ‘no, you’re fine!’ but try to pause and RESPOND.  Pull back and try to talk to your little ones about why they’re feeling the way they are.


MY DAUGHTER SAID ‘I HATE YOU!’ TO ME AND IT TOTALLY THREW ME.  HOW DO I RESPOND TO THAT?

The first thing to know, especially with young children, is that they use words and don’t understand the meaning.  Often they’ve heard certain words used in a context so for example, with ‘hate’ maybe they’ve heard it used by someone feeling angry and then they use it back to us. What they say doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing that we understand for that word to mean.  Children don’t think like adults think, even if they’re good with verbal expression, it doesn’t mean they understand the meaning of the words they’re using.  What we need to look at, especially when a child says ‘I hate you’ is what’s lying beneath that? What’s the emotion behind it? For most children, the feeling or emotion behind the word hate is anger, they’re angry.  Take this time to validate what they’re going through. ‘I know you’re angry because I’ve just turned the TV off, it’s ok, you’re allowed to be angry.’ Children get angry, we get angry, it’s totally reasonable for them to be angry and as parents, we’re going to do things that our children won’t always like, them being angry is a result of that and we need to show them it’s ok.  Once your child is calm if they’re old enough (above 3) sit down together and say ‘I don’t like it when you use that word with me.’ Have the conversation with them about being allowed to be angry but ‘next time, instead of using the word hate, just tell me that you’re angry.’ They might not, they may still use the word hate but it’s about realising its not the word but the feeling behind the word and that’s what you want to tap into.

DINNER CAN SOMETIMES BE STRESSFUL, HOW CAN WE MANAGE IT TO BE A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE?

Mealtime battles can often be linked with anxiety for children.  They don’t know what they’re going to eat, if they’re going to like it and some children feel a lot of pressure for parents to try new things at the dinner table even though it comes from a good place of wanting to feed your child.  There are some really simple steps we can take as parents to try and relieve some of that anxiety children may be feeling at dinner time. Start with doing no more than 3 steps before mealtime that become predictable for children. These could be:

  • A warning - ‘It’s dinnertime in 5 mins.’
  • Washing hands - everybody, not just the children, the parents too!
  • Try and get them involved in the table setting.  For younger children, they could take their beaker to the table and the older ones, maybe a serving dish.


These steps lead to sitting down for a meal after and that predictability, over time, lowers anxiety for children because it cuts through uncertainty.  Be really consistent so it then becomes a habit and your child gets cues for dinnertime.  The most important thing with meals, especially for younger children, is to make meals positive.  If you are having battles, there’s a few things you can do as well as the mealtime routine.  One of them is to not talk about food AT ALL.  See mealtimes as quality family time.  Bring enjoyment to the dinner table by not focussing on the food.  Anxiety releases cortisol which suppresses the appetite. So when we focus on the food and what they’re not eating, it makes them more and more anxious and they shut down so then they don’t want to eat.

There is so much information on fussy eating and we will most definitely run a Q&A specific to feeding your little ones but you can also find some information on how to handle fussy eating on Dr MDC’s Instagram page here

HOW DO YOU TALK ABOUT HEALTHY EATING WITHOUT IT THEN MANIFESTING INTO BODY CONFIDENCE ISSUES?

Eating healthy is about what you decide to put on your child’s plate.  If you’re offering your child the same thing that you are eating and you are eating healthy, they will learn to eat healthy.  There’s no good or bad food, food is good but it's about a balance.  Look at what they’re eating across a month and as long as they’re getting balanced nutritional meals over that time, that’s ok.  It’s really about nutritional value, but if you’re really worried about your child not eating enough or gaining weight, please do consult your Doctor.  However, if they’re tracking for them (which may not be what tracking with what you had in mind your child would look like) you have to trust that they know what their body needs.  Healthy eating starts with you and you have to model it for them.

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO DEAL WITH TANTRUMS POSITIVELY? ARE THERE DIFFERENT WAYS TO DEAL WITH A 2-YEAR-OLD OVER A 4-YEAR-OLD?

Firstly, deal with 2 and 4-year-olds the same.  The toddler years and the adolescent years are the biggest change in brain development.  In the toddler years, the brain grows.  Children until the age of 7 or 8 don’t understand or have any logic.  That idea of A + B = C, having a consequence, doesn’t mean anything to children under that age because their brain cannot compute that because they haven’t reached the developmental stage yet.  They’re all using their FEELINGS which is why tantrums are such full-bodied rages. Their entire body is feeling, but there is no logic to it so using lots of words to try and calm them,  makes no sense to them. 

The best way to deal with tantrums is the VALIDATE.  Why are they having a tantrum? What’s the feeling behind the behaviour? Rather than focussing on the behaviour itself focus on the feeling.  Then ACKNOWLEDGE using your words ‘I know you’re angry, that’s ok, I’m here with you’.  If they kick off, which some children might do, stay with them.  Hold them gently by the arms and at a distance so they can’t kick you and say to them ‘no kicking,’ ‘no hitting’.  Most importantly, let them know that you are there with them and this is a safe space for them.  Try and stay really calm, because shouting at a child feeds into that chaos. 

When children have these big tantrums, it’s actually quite scary for them.  They don’t understand what’s happening either! Their body has just gone into a full meltdown and there’s no logic behind it. It’s important to know that they’re not throwing a tantrum to get something their body is just taking over.  Therefore, shouting at them makes them become frightened of you and they’re even more confused.  Try to stay calm, validate & acknowledge, keeping them safe, and once they're calm, ignore their actual behaviour, that’s something that you don’t actually have to do anything about.  Often when they’re calm, lots of children will start to cry because it’s frightening for them. 

Give them a cuddle, tell them ‘I love you, you’re allowed to be angry but we’ll come back to the park another day, we’re going home now.’ Follow through with your limit or boundary but you still give them that safe space.  Whether it’s with a 2-year-old or a 4-year-old start with that however with a 4-year-old, you can talk about it when they’re calm.  Sit with them and talk to them. ‘I know you were angry when we were at the park but you can’t kick or hit Mummy,’ or ‘you can’t use those words’.  With a 2-year-old, there’s no need to talk to them about it after, it wouldn’t make sense to them.

If you’re finding it incredibly challenging and you can’t manage it because you’re feeling on edge with your child all the time, that’s when you need support for YOU as a parent.  We all need a break! When you can’t manage it anymore, you need to reach out for some help for you.  You can speak to your GP and get some support and find out what support is available locally.

One thing to know and lots of parents don’t believe it… but… TANTRUMS ARE NORMAL AND THEY ARE HEALTHY! They are not a reflection of you as a parent! They are healthy parts of brain development and children have to go through it and so do you with them.  It’s all about emotional regulation and they need to do that so they can learn how to soothe themselves with your support.  We all go through it as parents but it is normal and healthy!

MY LITTLE ONE IS HITTING HIS BIGGER SISTER AND FURNITURE AND WHEN I CORRECT HIM HE’S GETTING ANNOYED!

First and foremost, keep them and other people around them safe.  If they’re hitting their sibling whether they’re older or younger siblings, the first thing to do is to get them to stop.  You might need to actively use your body to keep them safe.  Pick them up, hold them and go through the validating and acknowledging process. While you deal with the tantrum, the sibling also needs to be safe somewhere.  The tantrum will subside and when it does, you need to help the child who has been on the receiving end of the tantrum.  It’s really important not to take sides.  Older children are still children and its not until the age of 7 or 8 until they develop logic so if they’re under the age of 8, they’re the same.  One of them might have a bit more ability but it doesn’t mean they have the sense or capacity to regulate their feelings.  If you’re on your own with 2 children, tend to the one that has got hurt first, not the one that is hitting. 

There are two things you can do in this situation:

  • Support the one who does the hitting or the snatching to use their words teaching them that next time perhaps say ‘I want to play by myself, go away.’
  • Develop the other child’s assertiveness.  For a younger sibling to be able to be assertive and say ‘NO’ to a big brother or sister is really powerful!

When you hear that communication between siblings, you can then, as a parent, step in and say ‘she said no, I heard her you need to be respectful.’ And then you have a different conversation.

The child who is usually getting hit is becoming more assertive and the child who does the hitting is eventually learning to use their words.  Rather than putting your child on a naughty step or offering a punishment, what you are doing is teaching them some valuable skills such as patience which is a much better outcome.

Think about what skill is your child missing, and what do they need to learn!

I've got an 8-year-old son as well as my 6month old daughter. I'd love to know how to effectively counter the negative attitude he has toward himself and his ability to do lots of things (drawing, riding his bike, anything difficult) he doesn't seem to be responding to talking about being kind to ourselves and failure being about learning, etc. DOES STRIVING FOR ‘PERFECTION’ START THIS YOUNG?

When they can’t do something, like riding a bike, for example, encourage it by making it fun.  If that doesn’t work, rather than trying to fix it with comments like ‘but you love riding your bike’ or ‘you’re so good at it’ try to understand what they’re trying to tell you.  If your child is saying ‘i don’t want to go on my bike, I’m no good at it,’ there’s something going on there.  Could it be that he’s scared? Do you have to go back some steps and get him a balance bike? Does he need to see you doing it?

If your child is saying they can’t do something, pause and try to understand why. Is he struggling with being on his own during COVID? Does he feel like he’s missing some skills? Rather than solving it or fixing it, go with it! Be curious about it with your child and if your child is adamant they don’t want to do something, then it’s ok to not do it. 

What you’re teaching them is resilience.   That they can come back to something that they find difficult later.  Maybe next time they try to do the same thing, you could sit with them and break it down for them.  ‘Perfectionism’ in young children isn’t really perfectionism, it’s more about the fear that they don’t have the skills to do something so then they get something wrong, they give up.  But when they give up, it’s because it's hard so resilience is about saying to them, you can stop and take a pause when it’s too hard but then you come back to it and you’re there to help them through the problem-solving. If you’re just fixing, then you’re not teaching them how to problem solve the difficult thing.

HOW TO BUILD BODY CONFIDENCE AND SELF ESTEEM IN YOUR CHILD RIGHT FROM THE START. ESPECIALLY WITH SENSITIVE CHILDREN

Although many women (and men) might not like this answer, the fact is, that it starts with you.  If you can hear yourself say things like ‘I can’t wear this because my thighs are too big’ or ‘this doesn’t fit me anymore because I’ve put on weight’ all that language feeds into the feeling that a body has to look a certain way to be aesthetically pleasing.  If you’re able to start talking to yourself in a kinder voice and stop judging yourself and other people by appearance and say something more than ‘you look pretty today’ the focus isn’t then on their appearance. 

There’s nothing wrong with telling your child that they’re beautiful but don’t let that be the only thing you say.  Tell them that they’re also ‘smart’ or ‘you look smiley today’.  This will always help with body confidence.  If you start with yourself and use kind words, and SAY THEM OUT LOUD such as, ‘I feel good today,’ or ‘I like the way this looks on me’, that’s really important.  Use the word ‘strong’ to describe yourself because then it's not about how your body is beautiful but how it actually helps you do things! ‘My legs are strong and I’m so proud of them for helping me run a half marathon’ or something like that, which again, takes the focus away from their appearance.

With food, if we accept that all foods are ok and we’re eating healthy, and not subscribing to body shame ‘I had a cake today so need to go for a run to burn off the calories…’ if we don’t do that and we don’t speak about it out loud then your child doesn’t connect those 2 things.  They don’t connect food with punishment or food with treats, food becomes part of their every day and they just eat, a variety of things, and every day is different.

DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS ON DEALING WITH SEPARATION ANXIETY WITH MY 4-YEAR-OLD WHO STARTS SCHOOL IN SEPTEMBER, ESPECIALLY AFTER COVID?

The separation anxiety is about bringing comfort to your child.  Maybe let them take a photo of you or a bracelet that you wear, something that CONNECTS them to you while they’re at school.  Speak to the school about this as due to COVID there may be some restrictions on what they can and can’t take to school. 

Try the LOVE BUTTON technique.  Draw a shape or a heart on your forearm, one for you and one for them.  Tell your child it is a magic button that connects the two of you together and it has an invisible string.  The string is there, it’s called love, but to children below the age of 8, it’s abstract.  To say to them, ‘I thought of you at school today,’ doesn’t mean anything to them.  They need something concrete, visual, something they can see and touch, to believe that there’s a connection.  Otherwise, to them, you’re gone, you’ve just disappeared and 'I don’t know when I’m going to see you again.' That’s what separation anxiety is about.

So, if you have this LOVE BUTTON and you put it on your child, practice with them at home.  Say to them, ‘when you’re thinking of me, missing me, want to connect with me, press the button and I will feel it.’ When you leave them for school, remember to tell them, they have a magic button! Tell them ‘I pressed the magic button, did you feel it?’ and they will respond to that.  They’ll know that you’ve been thinking about them while they’ve been at school and it really feels like a connection! As a parent you will also miss your child when you look at your arm and see that heart, you will also have that visual connection to your child.

A recent post from Dr MDC offering practical tips to support your child when starting or returning to school can be found here

HOW DO YOU GET A GOOD BALANCE BETWEEN REWARDING GOOD BEHAVIOUR AND CONSTANT BRIBING?

As much as this may not be a popular answer… NO REWARD and NO BRIBES! The best way of getting good behaviour is to model good behaviour.  You don’t need to reward it other than with positive praise.  however, positive praise also needs to be descriptive.  So, rather than saying ‘good girl,’ it’s about saying ‘Oh look, you’re sitting really nicely at the table.’

You shouldn’t be praising your child to do every day good things, because as a parent, that’s the aim, to bring them up in aa positive way.  Rewards work for certain behaviours, for example, if you’re teaching toileting.  A very specific thing.  BUT, you don’t give them a sticker every time they use to toilet forever.  You just eventually expect them to do it.  So you might use it as encouragement because you’re teaching a new behaviour but not just for good behaviour. 

Their reward is their connection with you! If you have that close connection with your child and use the tips that we’ve talking about, validating and acknowledging, you are developing a positive relationship with your child.  They want to please you and not just for a treat but because they like you and have no expectations from being good, positive children.  Trust the process, which can be very hard, but if you follow some of the steps we’ve talked about your child will definitely learn.  If you also model good behaviour, over time they will also do it, and it will happen naturally in the context of a supportive family and loving environment, which if you’re taking the time to read this, YOU ARE!

Trust in yourself and trust in your child, you don’t need the reward and definitely not the bribe! With bribing all you are teaching them is that they have to get through this horrible thing in order to get to the thing they really want! 

I'M A SINGLE PARENT AND HAVE BEEN SINCE MY LITTLE ONE WAS 2-YEARS-OLD.  HE'S NOW 5 AND ASKING QUESTIONS ABOUT WHY MUMMY AND DADDY DON'T LIVE TOGETHER.  HOW DO I TALK TO HIM POSITIVELY ABOUT THIS?

The most important thing about this is to make sure that you as a parent have a story about what you want to say.  Write it down, have a script.  It might start with it being your actual story but that doesn’t have to be the story you tell your child.  Once you have your story, think about the message you want to say.  What do you want your child to remember from that story?  It’ll be around this age that children see other children with maybe 2 parents and then start to ask these kinds of questions.  Be honest! Don’t be scared to tell your child that Mummy and Daddy don’t love each other anymore or weren’t happy together, BUT we are still a family and we both love them! Remind them that you will always be a family, some families live apart and that is ok.  We will always be a family because we will always love you! allow them to stay curious, let them ask questions.  Maybe share a little bit of the story and then ask if they have any questions about that, would they like to know any more? Then you might hear information from them that is new to you, maybe someone has asked your child where their Daddy is? And that starts a conversation with you and your child about it. 

Just know and understand what your story is, what you’re willing to share with them, and allow them to ask you questions about it.

Thank you for taking the time to watch our interview with Dr MDC or read this blog.  You can find lots of useful information on Dr MDC's Instagram page.  

We look forward to next month's Q&A series, be sure to look out for the topic and send in your questions. 

 

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