Sunday, June 9, 2013

connection: maintaining your child's emotional bank account {peaceful parent, happy kids series}

Last post, we learned from Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids about keeping OUR cool during a toddler (or older child) meltdown. It is, after all, a brain development thing, and often times they take their cues from our responses. So if we can keep it together, there will be a lot less crazy.

But there's also another side to toddler meltdowns, and it comes down to one word: connection.

Dr. Laura has an interesting theory about the relationship between defiance and challenging behavior and the level of parent-child connection, and applied to our family, it has definitely proven to be true. She says this:

"Your ability to enjoy your child may be the most important factor in his development...That deep connection is also what makes peaceful parenting possible. Children freely, even enthusiastically, cooperate when they believe that we're on their side. When they don't have that belief deep in their bones, our standards of behavior seem unfair, contradicting what they perceive as their own best interests, whether that's taking the biggest piece of cake or lying to us." (pg. 40)

How simple, and yet how difficult.

That's where her emotional bank account idea comes into play, and I found it very helpful to visual our interactions in this way, especially on those trying days. You've probably heard about the emotional bank account (maybe in a marriage book, perhaps?) but your child has one, too, and it's important to check the balance daily.

This doesn't mean bowing to their every wish or allowing them to do whatever they want - quite the opposite, because kids crave and need empathic limits - but the thing is, because the child truly believes that you are on their team, you can give them direction, instruction, and admonition while they give you the benefit of the doubt, that yes, mommy and daddy do this because they love me, and there are enough loving interactions that it creates a "positive balance" in their emotional bank account.

But on the flip side, when your child is being defiant, uncooperative, and challenging your every request, that's a signal that your account is in the red and it's time to stop and regroup. According to Dr. Laura, this behavior is a child's cry for help and reconnection needs to be a priority. Maybe it's a big hug and five minutes for an extra snuggle, or 15 minutes of child-directed play, or some fun roughhousing. It really doesn't take much to bring that account back into the green, but it does have to be consistent enough for our kids to really trust us.

For our family, especially during this moving fiasco and changing our housing situations three times in three months, we learned the hard way that connection has to be one of our top priorities, and the girls let us know loud and clear when they're not getting it with clinginess, tantrums, and just general crankiness. Both my husband and I noticed, on the same very exhausting and challenging day, that when we finally put everything aside and sat down with them and just played, giving 100% of our attention to them for about 30 minutes, we made a "positive deposit" in their little accounts and it made all the difference in the world. Now when Andy gets home from work, we sit down on the floor and just be with each other, even if for just 15 minutes.

Is your child's emotional bank account in the red? Ponder these questions from the book (pg. 64) and answer them honestly:

How many loving connections have you had with your child in the past two days?

What can you do to refill your relationship account with your child? Think of two things you can do TODAY.

Consider what contributed to your being overdrawn: what are five things you do in the future to make sure that your account stays in the green?

I'd love to know your thoughts - how do you reconnect with your kids and what difference do you see in their behavior when you do this? 


  1. I love this post. With a new baby, I need to be especially aware of Pearl's emotional bank account since she doesn't get the attention she used to get before Axel was born.

  2. Great advice! It's so easy to forget that our little ones are actually just small people with the same needs as adults emotionally. Thanks for the reminder Megan!

  3. ahhh.. finally getting to sit down at the computer for a moment...

    i loved this post and i love the book as well. i'm actually rereading it with my husband right now! connection is by far, the best way to manage these little ones crazy emotions that they are trying to figure out.

    we have been having a problem with connor melting down, yelling, screaming, needing to be held, you name it with his dad. kyle is great with him and does try to stay really in tune with connor's emotions and speak to him gently but there are those times when kyle is at a lose and there is only so much whining one can handle... connor was great with me (for the most part. we have our moments, of course) so i started realizing that it was connor's cry for attention, more attention - more quality time with his dad that was the root of this issue. kyle works regular hours during the week and there is only so much morning and evening time he can get in with both kids so i asked if he would be willing to bring connor into his bed (penelope and I co sleep in her room) so that even though they were both asleep connor could feel that closeness, that connection and that enjoyment of waking up next to his dad every morning. kyle was totally down with it. it's been a few weeks now and we've already seen a positive change in connor. we just needed to find a little extra time for them to connect wherever we could. it's amazing to see the changes and melts my little heart. so anyway- there's one way we trying to keep our bank in the green ;) it's the small things...



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