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Stop Responding to Your Kid’s Chaos With More Chaos

Some days, our kids act like sweet, little angels who make us love our jobs as parents… and other days act like rabid squirrels who’ve eaten nothing but sugar. It’s all about balance.

But on those days when they make us want to pull our hair out, we often respond to their behavior in ways that aren’t helpful whatsoever. In fact, our behavior often amplifies the situation, making everything louder and more stressful.

Here some of the ways we’re joining in on their chaos without realizing it.

1. When they express stress, we express it back.

When they start to scream, our voice automatically rises in volume, too.
“I don’t know what you want right now!”

When they get angry, we get overwhelmed and become frustrated.
“Please just STOP yelling.”

When they panic, we start frantically saying, “It’s okay! It’s okay!”

Even if you’re not saying or doing anything harmful, none of those responses convey calmness, which means your situation is not de-escalating.

The thing about human beings is that when they’re stressed, they become far less able to use reason and logic. Kids are particularly susceptible to this loss of control because they haven’t had as much experience with it. They don’t have practice.

As their caretakers, it’s not our job to punish them for being out of control. It’s our job to help them come back to a place of calmness so they can control themselves, and then we can coach them through managing their own needs.

2. We address the behavior instead of the reason for the behavior.

It is super, super, super important to address our kids’ negative behaviors… BUT… it’s even more important to address the reason behind the behavior. It might feel like the right choice at the time to only address their hitting/yelling/disobeying/etc, but it doesn’t actually reduce the chaos in the room.

It doesn’t solve any problems.

The next time your kid starts throwing a fit, try addressing both problems. First, calm them down, then figure out the problem, and then address the behavior.

Sounds backwards, right? It often feels like it, but it’s so effective.

Here’s an example:

My daughter throws her toy across the room, and it hits her sister in the arm. Instead of jumping straight to giving her a consequence for throwing her toy, I ask her what’s wrong. She doesn’t throw toys for no reason.

She’s either mad, overwhelmed, or completely out of control of her emotions.

When I ask what’s wrong, I find out her toy wasn’t making noises like she wanted it to. She tried turning the power on and off, but it still didn’t work. She asked her sister for help, but her sister said no.

Ah, I’ve discovered her problem.

I tell her that I can help her fix the toy. It probably just needs batteries!

She’s calmer and happier, but I remind her that she still made a bad choice when she threw her toy. She still made a choice that hurt her sister.

Since she’s calm, she understands that it was a bad choice. We replace the batteries in her toy, and then she serves a five-minute timeout while her toy waits on the table for her.

We addressed the behavior AND the reason for the behavior, all while reducing chaos.

3. Voice tone, body language, and facial expressions.

The things you’re NOT saying are just as important as the words you ARE saying. In my opinion, actually, your non-verbal cues hold even more weight than your spoken words.

Every time I hear an adult say, “Do as I say, not as I do,” I die a little inside.

If you can’t meet your own expectations, then how could a child? Don’t just TELL them how to behave, show them.

Control your own facial expressions when you’re frustrated. Control your own voice tone when you feel like running out the door, screaming. Control your body language even when you’ve heard your kid whine for four straight days.

It doesn’t matter how many times you tell them to stay calm, if your entire body language is communicating that YOU’RE not calm, they won’t hear a word you’re saying.

Kids don’t realize they’re being chaotic. They don’t realize they need you to cover their chaos with peace. They might not even realize you’re affecting them at all.

But the truth is… you are! You have the power to defuse everything they bring to you, no matter how insane it feels in the moment. Take the opportunity to make things better instead of making things more difficult.

Don’t respond to their chaos with your chaos.

Stop Responding to Your Kid’s Chaos With More Chaos

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2019). Stop Responding to Your Kid’s Chaos With More Chaos. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 6 May 2019
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