You & Your Child’s Big Emotions, Part 2
You and your Child’s Big Emotions described four factors that contribute to our children’s big emotions. These same factors give parents several hints about the best ways to respond to our children’s emotions. Let me share ….
- Plan ahead when you know you’re going someplace that may involve waiting. Since we know that time can “drag on” for our children, take some books to read, some paper to draw on and color, or other quiet activities your child can engage in. I learned this important lesson and more when I took a child I worked with to the doctor…and the doctor providing the perfect distraction.
- Establish healthy routines and structure. Healthy routines and structure provide our children with predictability. Predictability adds to our children’s sense of security and decreases their sense of stress. A greater sense of security also means fewer emotional meltdowns, even during transitions. So, build healthy routines around meals, bedtimes, bath times, and mornings. Create routines for “leaving” home and “returning” home. These routines do not need to be rigid or complex. In fact, flexibility and simplicity go a long way in making a routine effective. For instance, simply asking, “Do we have everything?” before “leaving” the house can create a routine that allows each person to more easily manage the transition of “leaving.” Asking “Where are we going?” (even though you already know) can help a child prepare for the trip and minimize many emotional outbursts associated with leaving one area to go to another.
- Listen. No matter how well you plan ahead and how perfect the structure you provide, your child will still experience times of overwhelming emotion. When this happens, listen. Before anything else, take time to listen. Hear their deeper concern. Listen for the deeper meaning. Is there fear, sadness, excitement behind the expression? Listen carefully and deeply.
- Empathize and validate your child’s emotion. Given our children’s developmental level, their experience, and their knowledge, they are responding to a seemingly overwhelming emotion the best way they can. Recognize they are doing the best they can with what they know. And recognize that they may experience the fear of feeling out of control themselves. Empathize and validate. Understand and comfort.
- Acknowledge and label their emotion. Labeling an emotion is one of the first steps in learning to manage it appropriately. The ability to recognize and label an emotion is a crucial step in learning to manage it. First, labeling an emotion acknowledges that you value them and their feelings. They are important. Second, the simple act of labeling an emotion provides the emotional space needed to begin to process it and respond to it wisely rather than impulsively. So, take a breath. Acknowledge your child’s overwhelming emotion and give it an appropriate label.
- Finally, don’t take it personal. Your child may direct all the energy of their emotions at you, but it is not about you. It’s about the overwhelming feelings they are experiencing and do not yet know how to manage. It’s an opportunity for you to share your love with them by listening, empathizing, validating, and teaching them to manage their emotions in a healthy productive way. It’s also an opportunity for your child to learn that we all have strong emotions. Those emotions provide us with information about our priorities, values, likes, and dislikes as well as the energy to act on our priorities and values in a healthy, productive manner.
Yes, toddlers will tantrum. Teens will sulk. But we can face these emotions, and any other emotions that arise, with love and grace. We can recognize them as opportunities to learn about our children and for our children to learn about themselves. We can seize the opportunity to help our children grow in their ability to manage emotions and to develop a more intimate relationship with our children.