Dealing with a screaming child is never fun. But there’s something particularly heartbreaking when your offspring yells at you to “go away!” or “get out of my room!” Whether these words are coming from an overwhelmed toddler or a moody teen, it’s hard not to feel their sting.

And while you may be tempted to give your kid some space or even appease them in the moment by responding with something along the lines of, “Fine, I’m going!” child clinical psychologist and parenting guidance provider Dr. Becky Kennedy actually advises parents to do the exact opposite.

“The next time your child is totally dysregulated and yells, ‘Get away from me, get out of my room!’ consider this idea—your child is actually terrified,” shares Dr. Becky. “Terrified of herself and terrified of terrifying you.”

Because here’s the thing: Your kid shouting these things at you should be a clear indication that she’s having some big feelings. And big feelings are overwhelming and scary. In fact, the only thing scarier than having those big feelings is being left alone with them, argues the psychologist. So what your child really needs in this moment is not for you to leave, but rather to stay so that they can feel your support and your presence.

“I think that these are actually the words a child is screaming at their own overwhelming, terrifying feelings—not at you,” writes Dr. Becky. “A child is actually desperate for us to stay because through our loving presence we say, ‘I know these feelings are overwhelming you… but they’re not overwhelming me. I don’t see you as a bad kid I need to move away from. I see you as a kid who is good inside and having a hard time on the outside. And so, I’m staying.’”

And yeah, that makes a lot of sense. But it’s hard to think straight when emotions are running high, so what exactly should a parent do if they find themselves in this situation?

Here’s Dr. Becky’s script: “Take a deep breath, stay and share these words: I’m staying right here. I'm not scared of you, I'm not scared of your feelings. I love you and we'll get through this together.

That doesn’t seem too difficult. But some might argue that if your child is asking you to give them space, you should respect that request. Because after all, isn’t setting and respecting boundaries one of the most important social skills we can teach our kids?

“Boundaries are so important,” responds Dr. Becky. “Wiring our kids to be able to prioritize their needs, to set and hold boundaries is so important. There are so many ways that we can empower and honor our kids’ boundaries in a meaningful way. That being said, I don't think that this is the time. When our kids are in an extreme state of dysregulation, what they need more than anything is 1) to be reminded of their goodness (they are a good kid having a hard time) and 2) that the feelings which feel so scary and overwhelming inside of them don't scare us, that they don't push us away.”

But if you feel like your presence is just making a bad situation worse, you could opt for a less direct approach. Here’s what Dr. Becky suggests: Stand with your back against the wall, put your hand on your heart, close your eyes and just focus on taking deep breaths. Every so often, you could say out loud to your child, “I’m here. I love you.”

“Seeing your calm, sturdy presence amidst your child's emotional storm might be the most powerful message you can send to your child,” says the therapist.

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