Let’s be honest, we all flip our lids sometimes. We’re human—we’re going to get angry, overwhelmed, anxious, and/or defiant. Children are human too, and they need help learning how to cope with their big emotions.
The “flipped lid” analogy helps parents understand what is happening in a child’s brain when they are having a big reaction (a fit, tantrum, hitting, screaming, etc.). The prefrontal cortex is where our executive functioning is located. This part of the brain helps us use reason, socially acceptable behavior, and mindfulness. The amygdala is our emotional brain. It processes sensory information and decides if it is threatening. When the amygdala senses something dangerous or upsetting, it takes over the prefrontal cortex and creates a fight or flight response. Once the amygdala has taken over the prefrontal cortex (or the lid is flipped), there is no way to reason with the child.
In these moments of complete dysregulation, the only thing to do is help your child calm down (put their lid back on). What helps you calm down? How can you give that same respect and opportunity to your child? Personally, when I start feeling overwhelmed or dysregulated, I want soft voices, a gentle rub on the back, a hug, or some quiet time by myself. What would it be like to try some of those things with your child next time they lose their marbles?
Modeling! Children are always watching and learning. How you regulate when you get upset or overwhelmed is showing them how to handle their own big feelings. Show your child that it’s okay to cry, to take long breaths, or to take some alone time. Show your children what you do to put your lid back on.
Be with them! Often when children start throwing fits, misbehaving, or screaming, parents will resort to punishing or threatening them. In these moments, helping children name what they’re feeling can be relieving for them. “You are really angry, mommy is here for you” or “That made you sad, can I give you a hug?”
Give them alternatives! Kiddos will find ways to get their needs met. Maybe when they feel angry, they punch their little brother. Or perhaps when they’re asked to share, they scream and throw the toy across the room. When your child hits their little brother, you can say, “You are really angry. Your brother isn’t for hitting, if you want to hit something you can go beat up that teddy bear.” Having appropriate alternatives for your child’s inappropriate behaviors teaches them healthier ways of expressing themselves.
Teach them! If your child is old enough to understand the flipped lid analogy, explain it to them. Help them come up with ways they can bring their own lid down. Let them know they can always ask for help from you too.
Being proactive and helping keep children regulated throughout their day can help reduce the amount of times their lids get flipped.
Most importantly be patient! Not just with your child, but with yourself also. Learning new skills will take time for both of you. Showing your child and yourself grace and patience will encourage both of you to keep trying.