Tag Archive for emotional development

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 ….

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

You & Your Child’s Big Emotions

Toddlers have tantrum. Teens will sulk. In between…well, it could be almost anything.  Children respond to emotions in ways that frustrate their parents and even make them feel helpless at times. But if we, as parents and adults in their lives, learn these important facts about our children’s emotions we don’t have to feel frustrated and helpless. In fact, learning these important facts will empower us to parent more effectively. What facts am I talking about?

  1. Children experience the world differently than adults experience the world. They hear more and different sounds. They see things from a different vantage point, literally. For instance, since their eyes are two to three feet below most adults, a crowd becomes a sea of legs blocking their vision…and that could be frightening.  Our children also experience many sights and sounds as new and unknown, even though we consider them familiar and even mundane. So, a child may get upset by a sight or sound that an adult has not even noticed.
  2. Children also have a different sense of time than adults. Time moves more slowly with less rush for children. They get bored more easily as “time drags on” while we, as adults, feel pressured by too little time. What an adult may experience as a passing moment can seem like an unbearable eternity to a child whom we admonish to “sit still. It will only be a minute.” Remember how long those minutes seemed as a child…as the second hand on the clocked ticked…slowly…along? Overall, it may seem as though children get upset about the “silliest,” most mundane things. But when we begin to realize how different a child’s experience of the world is from our adult experience, their responses seem much more reasonable and even understandable.
  3. Children’s distress quickly goes from zero to sixty and spills over into everything. Their emotions often result in a meltdown that takes over the moment and everyone present. In fact, children experience difficulty managing strong emotions. Their emotional management skills are underdeveloped compared to adults. They have not learned and internalized the coping skills necessary to deal with the emotional struggles they encounter—like the fear of abandonment, frustrated desires, bullying, loss [even death], disappointment. They need us—the strong, healthy adults in their lives—to help them regulate their emotions in the moment and to teach them how to regulate their emotions in the future.
  4. Children engage in emotional outbursts and meltdowns at the worst possible moments. They meltdown when getting ready to leave the house or when preparing for bed; they become attention-seeking when you’re on the phone; they have the screaming match with their sister when you have a headache. It’s true, children have emotional outbursts at the most inconvenient times. And, in all reality, that makes sense. Children have a need for security and the adults who care for them provide that security.  When we, as caregivers, exhibit stress of some kind (trying to get everyone out the door on time, feeling exhausted yet trying to get our children ready for bed, irritated because we didn’t sleep well last night, etc.), our children feel our stress and become stressed themselves. Our stress creates a question in their lives about our availability to them and, as a result, their safety. When we, as caregivers, begin to focus elsewhere (like on our telephone or the meal we are preparing for dinner), our children want to make sure we are available to them. When we, as caregivers are tired, distracted, stressed, or rushed, our children respond with emotional outbursts that implicitly express their fear and need for security. In essence, their emotional outburst often implicitly asks, “Are you available to care for me? Or are you too tired, distracted, stressed, or busy to make sure I’m safe?”

These four factors about our children and their emotions opens the door for us to respond to difficult emotions with greater effectiveness. Watch for next week’s blog in which we will explore some ways we can help our children and teens manage their emotions and have fewer outbursts in the process.

Secretly Exercise Your Child’s Patience This Summer

Do you wish your child had more patience? If you’re like me, you probably wish you had more patience too. We could all use a little more patience. Here’s the good news. You can increase your patience and help your child increase their patience at the same time… all while you’re having fun! It won’t even seem like you’re practicing those patience muscles. But you will. And did I say? It’s fun! Here are 6 activities that can help you and your child increase your patience this summer.

  • Plant a garden. It takes time for a seed to germinate, sprout, grow, blossom, produce fruit, and ripen. Nurturing and watching it go through this process promotes patience. So, plant a vegetable garden, flower garden, or herb garden. Plant a tree. Plant it and watch it grow.
  • Bake together. Baking also takes time and patience. You have to gather the ingredients, mix the ingredients, prepare the pan, bake your cake (bread, pie, or pastry), let it cool, and, best of all, eat it.  Depending on what you bake, you may have to add time for the dough to rise as well. All this provides practice in patience with a reward of a very delicious treat.
  • Play games. Many games promote patience. In board games or card games we practice patience while waiting our turn. Chess involves waiting even longer while your opponent considers options. Games like “Simon Says” promotes patience as well as listening. So play a game and practice those patience muscles.
  • Build a model. I don’t hear about children building models as much as I used to. But, you can imagine the patience needed to sort the pieces and carefully follow the instructions to put them together properly before painting the assembled model. When you’re done, show it off.
  • Complete a puzzle. My wife and children loved doing puzzles. (I didn’t have the patience, lol.)  Puzzles promote patience as you sort the pieces before looking for just the right piece to fill the empty space. You also get to enjoy spending time together as you complete it. Perhaps the one who shows the most patience can fit the final piece into place. 
  • Paint by numbers. You can get a simple paint by number or a more complex paint by number. Both will promote patience as you carefully follow the instructions, using the correct color to match the number and then waiting for one color to dry before using colors that border it. After patiently completing the project, however, you have a beautiful picture to display.

I love ideas that help promote patience in such simple, natural, and fun ways. They allow our children (and us) to learn without even knowing it. And, I have to say it again—it’s fun. So, practice patience and have fun at the same time this summer.

Teach Your Children the Wisdom of Queen Elsa

A recent study led by University of Miami psychologists pointed to an important skill to teach our children. The study looked at the way we process and manage negative incidents in our lives. Although it did not deal with families and their children directly, it still revealed a skill crucial for healthy families and their children to develop.

In this study, participants completed a questionnaire about their well-being. Then they reported daily stressful events, positive emotions, and negative emotions for a week via nightly phone calls.  Finally, they underwent an fMRI while viewing 60 positive images and 60 negative images interspersed with 60 neutral images. Putting all this data together, the researchers found that the sooner participants let negative images (incidents) go, the more positive emotions and the fewer negative emotions they experienced in their daily lives. Thus, the wisdom of Queen Elsa in Frozen…”Let It Go.”

Unfortunately, letting go of negative emotions and events does not seem to come naturally to many of our children (or to adults for that matter). So how can we practice letting it go and teach our children to do the same? Here are 3 ideas.

  1. Catch the emotion and analyze it. Are there thoughts that make the emotions stronger or more intense? What thoughts perpetuate it and keep it going? Are you thinking that the situation arousing this emotion effects a specific part of your day or that it is “ruining the whole day” or everything about the day? Do you think of it as a temporary setback or permanent disruption? Do you think of areas in which you can influence the next steps or is it all the fault and responsibility of others, the surrounding circumstances, or fate? How you think about the incident or situation which aroused the emotion will impact how you feel. Analyze the thoughts under the emotion and change them when necessary.
  2. Observe the emotion…then let it go.  Recognize the emotion. Label the emotion. Observe how it feels in the body—its shape and color even. Consider if it changes or moves around in your body. Observe how the emotion differs from a thought. Observe how you know the emotion is a part of you, only a part of you but not all of you. You are more than the emotion. Then, take a deep breath and visualize the emotion floating away like a snowflake on the breeze… or rolling away like a snowball down a hill. Let it go! (For more ideas on observing & letting go read Your Child’s Toolbox for Self-Soothing.)
  3. Melt your body and the emotion with it. Breath…inhaling for a count of 3, exhaling for a count of 6, then sit quietly for a second or two to notice the quietness in your body before repeating the process. Continue breathing as you imagine yourself in a place that makes you feel calm and happy. Perhaps you will visualize a beach, a mountain vista, a bike ride, or sitting at the pool with friends. You can also do a body relaxation exercise. Imagine your body melting into a state of relaxation. Feel the muscles relax.

By learning to let go of negative emotions and teaching our children to do the same, we give our families a precious gift. We give them the ability to enjoy more positive moments in their life. Don’t you want your children to have that gift?

Book Review: Hunt, Gather, Parent

Michaeleen Doucleff, the author of Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, was looking for guidance on raising her strong-willed, rambunctious 3-year-old. As any good investigative journalist would do, she began to research the “options.” And the most effective ideas and parenting guidance she discovered came from sources flung to the far ends of the world. With daughter in tow, she visited a variety of indigenous peoples—a Mayan village in Mexico, Inuit families in the Arctic Circle, and Hadzabe families in Tanzania—to gain some very useful parenting advice. And I loved it. Some of the reviews I read were critical of various aspects of this book. For instance, they accused her of a gender bias, espousing parenting techniques of indigenous peoples as though they have no counterparts in Western parenting guidance (in fact, they are similar to Montessori or RIE parenting), and “framing tribal parents as eternally happy, and Western parents…as miserable victims of circumstances.”

I don’t know about all that…but I do know our society gets so caught up in finding fault and criticizing where a work (in our opinion) falls short , where we think it won’t work, or simply what’s wrong with it…rather than looking at the good gifts the work offers for many situations and people. And Hunt, Gather, Parent offers many excellent gifts. It offers wonderful advice to parents about effective ways of raising their children, advice that both fathers and mothers can apply.

This advice is founded, in part, on a parent’s perspective of children. Are children simply miniature adults that we can expect to behave appropriately? Or are they children who need to learn how to behave, manage emotions, and do tasks we call chores? Hadzabe parents offered Ms. Doucleff an excellent answer. In addition to this, Michaeleen Doucleff learned practical ways to remain calm when her child engages in tantrum behavior, how to encourage cooperation rather than control, and how to meet personalized needs rather than expect developmental milestones. She also talks with a variety of experts along the way to learn more about what she was witnessing and putting into practice.

All in all, this book is filled with gifts for every parent—great ideas and practical takeaways every parent will find helpful, all wrapped in a warm storytelling style. Use what you can, and you will not only find your children’s behavior improving, but your relationship with your children improving as well. And isn’t that what we all want?

4 Great “BUT’s” of Parenting

We love to see our children happy BUT we don’t want to spoil them to keep them happy. We want to provide a nice home and plenty of healthy opportunities for our children to grow BUT we don’t want to feel guilty about spending too much time away from our children earning the money to make those opportunities a possibility. We want, dare I say need, adult time with friends BUT we don’t want our children to feel unloved or abandoned.

Yes, parenting is a bit of a balancing act BUT the 4 “BUTS” below can help you find the proper balance.

  1. Children benefit from the opportunity to express their emotions, including anger; BUT they can remain polite and kind as they do. I met one mother who allowed her 6-year-old son to smack her repeatedly when he was angry. She felt he needed to express his anger.  In reality, children benefit from learning to manage their anger and other emotions, not express it through violence. Part of learning to manage our emotions is learning to utilize the energy of an emotion to meet the need that contributes to that emotion…and doing so in a positive manner.
  2. There is an appropriate time for a parent to apologize; BUT simply because your child is disappointed is not one of those times. Sure, a parent needs to apologize if they lose their cool for no good reason or accidentally say something that hurts their child’s feelings. BUT there is no need to apologize because your child is simply disappointed for not getting everything they want when they want it. In fact, it’s healthy to learn that sometimes we can’t have everything we want because it’s too expensive, too time consuming, or we already have more than we need.
  3. No parent likes to see their child engage in tantrum behavior; BUT “giving in” to their tantrum behavior only increases the chances that they’ll tantrum again. “Giving in” to tantrum behavior empowers your child. It teaches them that tantrum behavior works, it gets them just what they want when they want it. If it works, it’s powerful. And who doesn’t repeat what works? Rather than “giving in” to their tantrum behavior, ignore it. If they tantrum in public, calmly escort your child to a more private place and wait for them to stop.  Once they calm down, talk about what may have led to the tantrum. They may have a genuine concern to address. If so, address it. And talk about healthier ways to communicate their needs and their emotions.
  4. Children have a right to be disappointed with a limit or rule; BUT you don’t have to argue to justify the rule. It is alright for children to get disappointed. It’s a part of life. And it’s alright for children to want to know the reason behind a limit or rule.  Simply state the rule and the intent of the rule, then refuse to argue about it. Make sure the rule is appropriate and actually accomplishes what you intend, then stick with it. If there is wiggle room, you might discuss it (not argue about it) with your children. Let them give the reasons they believe the rule might be changed. Then tell them you will think about it and get back to them. Perhaps you’ll change it and explain why you. Perhaps you will not change it and you’ll simply explain why you chose not to change it. No arguing. Just stating it once. (Read Help, My Child ALWAYS Argues With Me for ideas on what to do instead of arguing.)

These four great “buts” of parenting can help bring balance and clarity to your parenting goals.

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

I was speaking to a father in my office when his 2-year-old daughter brought him an Etch-A-Sketch from the toy shelf. Tapping the screen, she said, “I-pad broke, Daddy. I-pad broke.” We both smiled.

Perhaps you’ve seen a parent in a store or restaurant carting a somewhat fussy toddler. In frustration, they hand their toddler their cell phone and, voila, a calm toddler. Infant toddler media use is on the rise. Parents report that on average, children younger than 2-years-old spend about an hour a day of screen time. Children between 0- and 8-years-old read, or are read to, about half an hour a day while spending an average of an hour and 25 minutes engaged in screen time. Even more, 19% of the parents in the survey reported using media to regulate their children’s emotions “often” and 36% reported doing this “some of the time.” (Read more here.) What are we teaching our children with all this? Unfortunately, we may be teaching them to reach for their media devices when upset or bored, increasing the risk of a media addiction.  Another study found that toddlers were more likely to tantrum in response to frustration when their parents used media to help them stay calm.

“But my child can’t wait patiently at the restaurant… or sit in the car for a long drive… or get through a store without a screen. They’ll have a meltdown.” That’s good news. It means you have a great opportunity to teach your children better ways to regulate their emotion and their boredom. Here are some ways you can help.

  • Prepare ahead of time. Bring some simple activities to distract or engage your child. This might include small toys, dolls, picture books, or stickers. Be creative and bring whatever small thing might entertain your child. (For one idea read Teach Your Child the Art of Waiting.)
  • Accept and validate their emotions. I know I get bored on a long car ride. It’s easy to get frustrated at the supermarket. If we as adults have these experiences, our children probably do, too. Label their emotion for them. Empathize with them. Even comfort and soothe them.
  • Label their emotions when they get upset. Children benefit from gaining an “emotional vocabulary.” Having a word to use in expressing an emotion increases their ability to manage that emotion in a healthy way. (Learn 6 Ways to Make Your Children’s Emotions Your Friend.)
  • Engage your child’s help. Even 2-year-olds enjoy helping” Mommy and Daddy.” Set them on the lookout for the picture on their favorite cereal box. Talk through your decision between apples or oranges with them. Make the journey a mystery. “I wonder what we’ll find in this aisle?” Engage them in the activity through playful interactions, conversation, and simple decision-making.
  • In the process, enjoy time with your child. Children seem to have a “second sense” about whether their parents are upset, frustrated, or happy. And, younger children take their emotional cues from their parent. Whey you enjoy time with your child, it is more likely they’ll enjoy time with you.

How to Give Your Children the Memories of a Lifetime

Memories help shape our identity. They reveal our priorities and impact how we view the world around us. As parents, we want our children to have wonderful memories that support their happiness, resilience, and maturity. With that in mind, here are two principles you can implement to help your children recall their greatest memories.

  • We remember best those times and moments that gave us the greatest reward.  Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about creating flashy and spectacular memories. I’m talking about creating the most rewarding memories. What do our children find most rewarding? Our time and attention.  The greatest reward our children desire is to have enough of our time and attention to connect with us on a deep level. Their greatest memories will be of those times they spend with people, times in which they interacted and connected with others. Give your children your time and attention so they will have a multitude of wonderful memories in which they had your full attention for long enough to really connect…joyful times of connection.
  • We remember best those experiences that we recall and relive often. Each time we recall a memory, we strengthen the neural activity that keeps it strong. We solidify its formation in our brain. In other words, talking about the wonderful times we experience with our family strengthens our memories of these wonderful times. Tell the stories of the “amazing catch” or the “time it poured while we were camping.” Laugh again at that funny experience with the cat. Recall the awe of watching the sunset or the awful smell of the monkeys at the zoo. Talk about it. Reflect on the emotions experienced. Recall the sensations stimulated. Relive those moments of love, connection, and joy. The more you do, the stronger the memory will grow.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Just spend time connecting with your children over fun, joyous experiences and then talk about those experiences. It really isn’t hard. But it will give your children the memories of a lifetime, memories on which to build a life of joy.

Dad’s Superpower & Children’s Self-Control

Fathers have a superpower, a superpower that contributes to their children’s emotional future. What is this superpower? Play! Yes, play. Researchers at Cambridge University and the Lego Foundation uncovered this superpower in a review they completed of 78 studies. Each study examined the impact of fathers playing with their children (zero to three-years-old). The results were published in the Developmental Review in September, 2020. Let me share two of the findings from this review.

  1. Father-child play tended to be more physical than mother-child play. Fathers were hands on. They liked to pick up their infants and engage in rough and tumble play with their toddlers. They enjoyed playing chase and wrestling, swinging, and bouncing.
  2. Father-child play improved emotional and behavioral outcomes. Specifically, more father-child play was associated with less hyperactivity and fewer behavioral problems in school. More play with fathers contributed to the children exhibiting a better ability to control their aggression. The children also exhibited fewer emotional or physical outbursts during disagreements at school.

It  seems that physical play with dad helped children develop better emotional and behavioral self-regulation. The authors believe this improved self-regulation occurs in at least three ways.

  • During the rough and tumble play, fathers model self-regulation by controlling their own strength, actions, and words. Children also control their own strength, actions, and words to avoid “hurting” their dad. Of course, seeing self-regulation modeled and engaging in self-regulation themselves is a wonderful practice in self-control.
  • During rough and tumble play, a father or child may experience an accidental minor hurt (a foot gets stepped on, a ball bounces the wrong way and smacks someone in the face). When such an accident occurs, that play stops momentarily to make sure everyone is OK. Then the fun continues. Both have survived the minor accident. Both have learned to better control themselves to avoid similar hurts in the future.
  • During father-child rough and tumble play, children may also experience times in which they “get carried away” and Dad must slow the play down. Their children follow suit, learning to better regulate their behavior and emotions.

This all adds up to children who learn better emotional and behavioral regulation from their Dad’s superpower, play! Now get out their Dad and put that superpower to use. Play with your child today!

That Glorious Fight with Your Teen

If you have a teen, you will likely have some conflict with them. You may even get into an argument or two…and that’s great news! Why? Because the way in which you repair the relationship with your teen is an opportunity for everyone to grow “strong in the force” of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to reflect on their own thoughts, feelings, and actions combined with an awareness of other people’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Your efforts to reconnect and repair the relationship with your teen following a conflict provides them with a “master class” in emotional intelligence. (For more on emotional intelligence read The Wings on Which Your Children Soar.)

Only you can teach this class because only you meet the required qualifications—someone with whom your teen feels secure, someone with whom your teen has a loving relationship, someone who is motivated to maintain a relationship with your teen through thick and thin. Who else but you, their parent, meets these criteria? So, prepare yourself to lead your teen in a “master class” in emotional intelligence.

As the teacher of your teen’s “master class” in emotional intelligence, what is the lesson plan? Here is a brief outline.

  • Following the conflict, allow at least twenty minutes for all parties (you and your teen) to calm down.
  • Approach your teen calmly and acknowledge your teen’s emotions. Offer understanding of their emotions and a label for them. Doing this informs them that emotions are beneficial. You understand and accept their emotion. In doing so you model one aspect of emotional intelligence—the ability to be aware of and understanding of another person’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.  You also encourage them to reflect on their own thoughts and emotions, another aspect of emotional intelligence.
  • Apologize for any inappropriate actions or statements on your part. As part of the apology, explain your own emotions. Do not blame your teen for your emotions. Take responsibility for those emotions but voice an awareness of your own emotions. In doing so you model the aspect of emotional intelligence involved in reflecting on your own thoughts and emotions. You also teach your teen to be aware of other people’s thoughts and emotions, in this case yours.
  • Allow time to calmly discuss each of these two bullets. Then you can discuss solutions to avoid future conflict. Those solutions may involve limits and boundaries for both of you. Fortunately, the “master class” in emotional intelligence will help you both respect the boundaries and limits that make up the solution.

Next time you find yourself in conflict with your teen, do not beat yourself up. Instead, be glad you for the opportunity to humble yourself, accept responsibility for your part in the conflict, and lead a “master class” in emotional intelligence. Teach it well in your actions and your words.

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