Teaching Your Child to Handle Emotions
Emotions are healthy–even emotions like anger, frustration, and sadness. They teach us to avoid harmful situations and learn from our mistakes. They allow us to express needs and seek out support. They help us learn about the world and people around us (Recognizing the Benefits of Emotions). Still, children need help from parents to learn how to manage their emotions effectively. Parents begin to help children manage their emotions by accepting the emotion. But, we can’t stop there. We have to offer more assistance. But, how? Here are some ideas suggested by John Gottman, PhD. (read the benefits of using these ideas).
1. Be aware of your emotions and your child’s emotions. Recognize and value emotions as a crucial ingredient of a successful life. Emotions help us express our priorities. They move us to action. They give us energy to change what we don’t like and pursue what we do like. Emotions motivate us learn about the world around us. You can enhance your awareness of your child’s emotions by watching his body language, paying attention to his facial expressions, and listening to what he says.
2. Recognize emotions as an opportunity to develop intimacy. Emotions in and of themselves are not bad or inappropriate. They are simply emotions. They present fantastic opportunities to teach values and to deepen relationship. As a parent empathizes with her child’s emotions, the child feels validated and, in turn, feels safe enough to move toward a more intimate relationship. Successful parents respect their child’s emotion. So, do not make fun of or minimize your child’s emotion. Don’t threaten or abandon your child when he expresses emotion. Instead, acknowledge your child’s emotion. Talk with him about that emotion and show concern for him in the process.
3. Listen carefully as your child talks about his emotion. Empathize with him and validate his emotion. This will demand patience as your child is immature in his ability to manage emotions. In fact, you are helping him grow more mature in his ability to manage emotions through this process. Let him talk about how he feels and accept that he may feel differently than you. Listen carefully to discover his emotions.
4. As you discuss the emotion with your child, label it. If he doesn’t like the label you choose, keep listening. Help him find a way to name the emotion he feels. The ability to simply label an emotion helps us manage it more successfully.
5. Finally, set limits around behavior and help your child problem-solve. Let him know that it’s alright to feel angry, happy, ecstatic, sad, frustrated…whatever. However, not all behavior is ok. “You can feel angry and still not hit me or call me names.” “You can be happy to win the game, but you need not gloat and humiliate your brother because he didn’t win.” I’m sure you get the idea. After listening, empathizing, naming and validating your child and his emotions, you will most likely gain the opportunity to problem-solve with him. After all other steps, you and your child can explore potential solutions to the problem at hand. As you explore solutions, remember that you do not need to fix or solve every problem that arises.
Practice these five steps as often as you can. As you do, you will see your child grow more mature in his ability to manage his emotions everyday.