From HALT to FUEL
Steps to Reducing Tension and Anxiety in Parent-Child Interactions
It’s 5:38 pm. Dinner isn’t made. You’ve just walked in the door and the games begin. Everybody’s hungry, tired, and stressed out from a long day. These are what I call the conditions for chaos.
All of us, and especially children, yearn to be heard, understood and accepted.
Chaos usually strikes between parents and children who become emotionally charged for a variety of reasons. Some children are more intense, and others more easy-going, just like adults. And, just like adults, children often behave ineffectively when ill equipped to manage stress, i.e., when feeling hungry, tired, stressed, overwhelmed or anxious. When tension enters the home, everyone feels out of control, potentially setting the stage for what feels like never ending hysteria. Since children and adolescents do not yet encompass the skills required to move from their heart to their head, and use reason and rationale to manage out of control emotions, it is imperative that we as parents learn to master our own emotions, understand our own triggers and at admittedly stressful times, approach the conflict in a calm, purposeful and controlled manner. This will drastically reduce the chaos for our children, which they often cannot reduce independently.
As both a parent and a therapist I’ve learned that all of us, and especially children, yearn to be heard, understood and accepted. When situations are emotionally charged, it only feels natural for both sides to be caught up in both an emotional state and a need to be right or “win,” holding the common belief that “they need to learn.” This leaves no room for shared understanding, breaking things down into manageable chunks, or seeing things from their proper perspective.
Generally every individual responds best to both warmth and feeling heard.
To resolve conflicts and problematic behaviours in a way that sets the proper example, promotes healthy self-esteem and personal responsibility:
GET OUT OF HALT, GET INTO FUEL
HALT– Hungry Angry Lonely Tired
FUEL–Fulfilled Understood Engaged Loved
Assess everyone’s emotional state of mind. Be authentic. If any individual is overwhelmed or stressed (HALT), or is stuck in their emotional mind, identify the risk factors and to reduce vulnerability for further interpersonal or inner distress, pause the conversation, re-fuel and come back together when everyone is in a problem solving state of mind (FUEL). The more the individual is in a place of “HALT,” the more deeply and negatively they will internalize messages from others, and also the more likely they will misinterpret the messages altogether, creating greater distance and further contributing to the parent feeling “out of control.” Children and individuals who are more emotionally vulnerable, or “intense” are at greater risk of internalizing and misinterpreting messages as attacking their character (i.e. “I’m no good”) instead of as challenging problematic behaviour (“my behavior is no good”). Separating the child from the behaviour is paramount. For the child to understand that they are seen as separate from their behavior, they must be in a state of FUEL.
Stopping an emotionally charged conversation takes awareness, mindfulness, maturity and inner strength, and it is necessary to model this change to promote healthy self-awareness, effective interpersonal skills and personal responsibility. Now is not always the ideal time to resolve a conflict. Gathering yourself and letting the child know that you’ll talk again when the issue is less charged, models a powerful example of self-discipline and yields better results.
Generally every individual responds best to both warmth and feeling heard. When anger and frustration overwhelm you, in any interpersonal interaction, try this:
- Take a breath
- Soften your voice
- Relax your face
- Let go of all judgments
- Listen mindfully without responding
You will get your turn. This is what being heard feels like. Model this for others, and expect the same in return. Demonstrating mutual loving-kindness and respect will always yield the response you set out to achieve, in all relationships.
This is a guide to help reduce chaos in the home and manage challenging behaviors. Taking these steps will put both you and the child in the position where you can problem solve together, identify consequences and change problematic behavior through the model most appropriate for that individual.
Here’s a subject that causes stress in kids; Acne & Puberty, read it here.