There’s a Problem on the Plane!

I recently had a 12 hour flight, returning from Europe. When I boarded I was sitting next to a young family – Mum, Dad and a 3 year old boy. As usually happens on flights, the hostess gave the boy a Kids Pack with an assortment of things to amuse him. While people were still boarding, he straight away got into the re-usable stickers – having a wonderful time sticking them on the arm rests and table tray.

As we prepared for take off, the hostess came round and told the parents he would need to put the tray table back up. The parents immediately responded, with no warning nor explanation to the child, grabbing the stickers, and shoving the table back up. Naturally he was upset, as he’d been having fun. His response…. to scream!

I’m pretty sure this has worked well for him in the past, which is why kids quickly learn that it’s an effective method of getting what you want!

He showed no signs of reducing the screaming despite the parents rather loud ‘Shhhh’s. He continued to scream, and they continued to loudly say: ‘Shhhh’. Then, when he didn’t comply, the Dad grabbed the child from Mum, and held his hand over the child’s mouth … which clearly didn’t help. When this didn’t work, the mother took the distraught child to a spare seat across the aisle, and rocked him till he did eventually stop and then fell asleep.

As Mum moved across the aisle, Dad turned to me and apologised for his son’s yelling! I was shocked and saddened by how they chose to respond to their child.

We all know that at times it can be a real challenge with babies and toddlers in the confines of a plane when they are upset or distressed. We also know the stress of being aware that other passengers aren’t happy about the noise. So we have an upset child, bewildered parents, and unhappy co-passengers.

The solution is not to be worried about how the other passengers are feeling!

The solution is to assist the child at a time when their emotions are out of control!

They may be either tired, bored, angry or frustrated – calming them down will not occur with you yelling at them, nor through holding them tightly, nor by smacking them, or by holding your hand over their mouth ….. Wouldn’t you be really angry if someone did that to you?

How do you think that child felt? The boy was annoyed he couldn’t continue to play his game, angry at the parents for putting it away without any explanation, and then scared at being held with a hand over his mouth – no wonder he took so long to calm down, and then fell asleep through exhaustion!

The parents did nothing to calm him down, to quell his frustration or disappointment. In fact, their lack of capacity to manage the situation led to it getting much worse! It was as if they added fuel to the fire, via their actions.

As parents, we have the choice…. to make it worse or to look for solutions!

Parents are in charge of controlling the temperature in the room!

Are you adding fuel to the fire?

They were more concerned about others, than their son.

The solution would have been to use a technique called Emotion Coaching.

What is Emotion Coaching?

As you know, the word ‘coaching’ is about supporting, leading and motivating your ‘team’. Here the ‘team’ is your child, and the coaching isn’t about soccer or swimming or Maths, but about emotions. It’s about tapping into the emotions the child is experiencing at that point.

This little boy was frustrated, angry, sad and scared.

A parent who uses Emotion Coaching would say something like this… “James, I can see you are really annoyed that you have to put the table up. And you’re cranky that you can’t put your stickers on the table at the moment. I’d be really cranky too if I had to stop doing something I was having fun with. And you are frustrated that you have to wait when you were having so much fun. Waiting can be really hard……………” It usually takes 4 – 6 of these statements to really see the child calm down.

You’ll notice that they are all statements of fact, they are not questions, nor are they promises to ‘fix the problem’ – because often we can’t! But, what we can do is offer solace, a soft voice and understanding of how the child is feeling. When we do this, what we are actually conveying to the child is that:

  • I hear you
  • I’m listening, and
  • I understand how you feel.

Isn’t that what we all want when we are upset or distressed…. to be heard. We know that not all problems can be solved, but we want to be understood!

When you listen to your child…. they feel understood, and feel that they are important enough that you do listen – a good message for a child to receive, eh?

Emotion Coaching is included as part of the “123 Magic & Emotion Coaching” course, which I run. The course is also available in many regions across Australia.

For more information, on how to enhance your capacity to connect with your child, please feel free to contact me

Happy Calm Parenting!

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