Recently, I learned from some wise like-minded parents about how to use the HALT method to both proactively guide our children, as well as finding a way to diagnose what is happening when things fall apart.
See, a key element in the successful practice of positive parenting is the ability to set our children up for success. It requires some effort to be thoughtfully and intentionally proactive in creating rhythms, routines, and environments in which they can feel their best.
Are you familiar with the HALT slogan often used in recovery programs? The idea behind it is that when a person is in recovery (specifically, addiction recovery), there are moments when he or she is vulnerable to making poor choices. HALT reminds us that when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, there is a need to be more sensitive to good decision making.
I’ve been using this as a guide to constructing and working through my days with my children, and it’s been simple to apply! Let’s break down what applying HALT looks like in the realm of parenting.
H: HUNGRYPhoto by rwkvisual
Anyone who interacts with children knows the importance of making sure blood sugar stays stabilized throughout the day. From church school teachers to daycare directors to parents with newborns on up to teenagers, we know that rumbly tummies often lead to difficult behaviors.
I’m particularly sensitive to this aspect of the HALT method because I’ve battled blood sugar issues my whole life. I know that for me, it’s imperative to have a snack or a meal every few hours or it will be Mama having the meltdown — not the kids!
Fortunately, the Hungry of HALT is one of the easiest aspects to manage on the list. Plan snack breaks into your daily routines, and when you will be out of the house or traveling, plan ahead with easy-to-transport snacks and drinks.
Simple Kids, and the Food and Nutrition category there has even more helpful suggestions.
Of all of the aspects of HALT, Angry is certainly the easiest one to recognize. As adults, we know how hard it can be to control our own tempers — and we are the grown-ups! How much harder it must be for our little ones who don’t have the advantage of maturity, experience, and some serious neurological development.
Being proactive in helping our children learn to control their big feelings can be a little bit tricky. We don’t want to shield them entirely from situations where they might get upset, because an important part of learning to deal with disappointment is to be disappointed. They can’t practice those much-needed conflict skills if we don’t let them engage in a little conflict.
On the other hand, we can anticipate situations where their anger buttons might get pushed, and try to help them understand expectations beforehand. For example: “We are going to play with Sarah. I know Sarah sometimes takes toys away and that makes you feel angry. It’s okay to feel angry, but it is not okay to hurt Sarah or anyone else when you are angry.”
Try as we might, we can’t be proactive every minute of the day, and we certainly can’t always predict what is going to anger our children. Just this morning, my three-year-old got mad that I dared to put honey for waffle dipping in a bowl instead of on her plate! But simply understanding that the “angry” part of HALT can cause our kids to make poor behavior choices is helpful as we navigate through a rocky day.
L: LONELYPhoto by D Sharon Pruitt
This element of HALT can sneak up on us. All of us have an innate need for attention from others; when that need is unmet for a child, the result is often acting out in some way to get attention (positive or negative) from a parent or caregiver.
Certainly all children are unique, and all will differ in how a parent can best be proactive in meeting that child’s needs. Personally, I’ve found that planing intentional connection time with my girls throughout the day helps enormously. As they’re getting up, eating breakfast, and getting dressed, I try to stay away from the computer and focus in on connecting with them. Later, after lunch, we have special time to sit and read together. We finish our days with reading and snuggles at bedtime.
Some children are more needy than others, but for many children, the security of frequent connection pit stops helps to eliminate acting out brought on by loneliness.
I have to smile as I recall that one of my grandmother’s most-often repeated diagnoses when one of her grandchildren was melting down a little bit (or a lot): “She’s just overly tired!” There is so much truth there, right?
If you think back to the sleep deprivation days of the newborn phase, you can recall just how significant of an impact a lack or sleep — or even broken sleep — can have on behavior. Being tired can manifest itself in many kinds of behaviors in children.
My oldest daughter becomes extremely weepy, sensitive, and emotional; my younger daughter, on the other hand, is increasingly hyper and wound-up the more tired she becomes. Other children might become aggressive and mean, while still other children are lethargic and whiny.
Each family has to find a solution that works best for them to when it comes to proactively ensuring their children are getting enough sleep. Early bedtimes work for my family, but later wake-up times might work better for yours. Several short naps will fit some children, while one longer nap is better for others.
Even when our kids get enough sleep, there are still circumstances when being overly tired will negatively impact our little ones: an overdose of stimulation, a long day of play, and even a growth spurt are all situations when the T of HALT causes some crankiness.
As we think about ways to apply the HALT method, the pursuit of proactive parenting cannot take over our family’s life. Despite our best efforts, we simply cannot control every situation, nor should we try to. We have to be flexible, and we have to model for our children how to adapt.
The best part of applying HALT to our parenting toolbox is knowing what is triggering undesirable behaviors in our children. Armed with that understanding, we are empowered to respond to them from a place of empathy and understanding, rather than from a place of confusion and frustration.
And we may just find that in doing so, we’ll also learn how to use HALT to better manage of our own behaviors.
How do you approach parenting proactively? What are some critical factors you have observed that influence your child’s behavior?