Give Your Child the Gift of a Lifetime
You have a gift your child needs, an ability she cannot live without. Giving your child this gift will result in an ability she will cherish for a lifetime. She will reap the benefits of this gift over and over as it “keeps on giving.” This gift reveals the extent of your love for your child and flows from the depth of your life experience. Very simply, this gift is the gift of emotional regulation–the ability to be aware of and attend to our emotions, to understand and label those emotions, and to manage them in the service of reaching our goal. When your child learns to recognize, attend to, label, and manage her emotions, she will have more joy and peace, greater academic success, and better social relationships. She will also be better able to respond to situations that arise in life. Even better, you will discover that emotional regulation has contributed to deeper intimacy between you and your child! To give the gift emotional regulation a parent must do several things.
- Model emotional regulation in your own life. Let your child see how you use the passion of anger to resolve an injustice or the energy of concern to accomplish some legitimate goal. Allow your child to witness your strength and courage in soothing your cantankerous emotions, enjoying your cheerful emotions, and expressing your painful emotions.
- Match your child’s emotion. You can match your child’s emotion by expressing a level of animation similar to the one your child expresses. Don’t mimic or mock. Simply be aware. If your child has little animation because of sorrow, don’t try to cheer them up with an upbeat tone of voice. Instead, let your tone express a sadness similar to your child’s. When your child is bouncing around with excitement, respond with an excite tone rather than one of agitation. You get the idea. Match your child’s emotion by matching her level of animation.
- Don’t wander to safer subjects, drift to happier topics, or try to shift to some more enjoyable emotion. Attend to your child’s emotion state and whatever topic or situation triggered that emotion. Pay attention to whatever your child is focused on and stay focused on that until you reach understanding.
- Call it as it is. Steps two and three will help you understand your child’s emotion. Simply feeling understood will help your child better manage her emotion. Now take it one more step. Label your child’s emotion. Call it as it is: anger, excitement, confusion, sadness, joy, rage, etc. Find a name for that emotion that resonates with your child’s experience. Call it as it is.
- Accept your child’s emotion. As you label each emotion, you communicate that emotions (all emotions) are acceptable. Limits must be set around the expression of emotion, but the emotion itself is acceptable. Accepting and labeling your child’s emotions also informs your child that you are not overwhelmed by her emotion. You are more powerful than her emotion. You can manage her emotion and help her learn to do the same.
- Make a plan. Once your child feels understood and her emotion has a name, problem-solve. Help your child determine what priority her emotion reveals. Explore the most effective way to communicate that emotion and the related priority. Plan ways to utilize the energy of that emotion to reach your child’s goal in an effective and healthy manner.
As you practice these six actions with your child, you will experience two immediate results: 1) greater intimacy with your child and 2) the joy of watching your child mature. As time goes on you will witness many other benefits—improved academics, better social interactions, and greater self-control to name a few. You will have given your child a great gift—emotional regulation.