Tag Archive for emotional management

It’s NOT All About You…or Me

My wife asked me a question, a simple question. “Where’s the cinnamon?” But there was an edge of irritation in her voice that sent “my mind a wandering.” Why does she sound irritated? Does she think I stole it? Why would I steal cinnamon? She is probably accusing me of putting things in the wrong place or not even putting them away at all. What’s the big deal with cinnamon anyway? Why does she always think the worst of me? On my mind ran, escalating my fears and defensiveness. You can imagine my response was less than ideal.  

Have you ever had a similar experience? Your spouse asks a simple question and sounds slightly agitated. The agitation strikes a fear within you. You jump to a conclusion and assume the agitation is pointed toward you. You personalize it and think it’s all about you. It’s a common response, but not the best response.

When we take our spouse’s agitation personally, it almost always makes the interaction go south. When we personalize their agitation, we tend to respond with defensiveness. They hear our defensiveness and feel misunderstood. And so begins a downward spiral of communication that began when we personalized our spouse’s mood and thought it was all about us.

But I have a secret for you…and for me. It’s not all about you…or me. Most of the time it’s about something totally unrelated to you…or me.

What can we do instead of personalizing and getting defensive? How can we nurture a better response and interaction? Good question. Here are some suggestions (given in no particular order).

  • First, take a deep breath. Let the breath out slowly as you start talking to yourself. Begin with statements of curiosity: “Hmmm. I wonder what’s going on here.” Then offer yourself soothing internal thoughts in a calm tone using calm words. Remind yourself of the love you and your spouse share.
  • Second, believe the best about your spouse. Practicing a calming internal dialogue, leaves space for alternative meanings to your spouse’s behaviors and words. It allows room for a compassionate interpretation of what your spouse said or did. Look for those compassionate, loving interpretations and let your mind dwell on them.
  • Third, acknowledge your spouse’s feelings in a calm, non-defensive way. Simply reflect back the emotion you perceived in what they said. This opens the door for clarification and communication. It provides space for your spouse to clarify what’s going on for them and for the two of you to come together in a common understanding.

These 3 simple steps can help save an interaction from the downward spiral of personalizing, defensiveness, and feeling misunderstood. They will help you create a calm interaction of clarification and support instead. That will go a long way toward building a more intimate, loving relationship. And it all begins with realizing that “it’s not all about you.”

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.

Help Calm Your Stressed Child

When our children get upset, we often encourage them to “slow down” and “take a breath.” Intuitively, we know that “taking a breath” can help our children calm down, sooth themselves, just like it does for us. An experiment conducted by Jelena Obradovic, director of the Stanford SPARK Lab, revealed that teaching children to breathe deeply in an everyday setting, like a children’s museum, a public playground, or a full-day summer camp, effectively reduce their stress. One important feature of this study was the 1-minute-18-second video used to guide the children through four calming breathes and so teach them to use breathing to manage their stress.

I share this information and the teaching video with you because we want our children to learn how to effectively manage their stress and frustration. Learning to breathe deeply by “smelling a flower” before “blowing out a candle” will help. It will be a great help when your child is stressed over some upcoming situation or following some situation like:

  • preparing to get a vaccine
  • getting ready for a performance
  • getting ready for school
  • after having an argument with a friend
  • experiencing anxiety about a test or tryout or game.

In fact, learning to breathe deeply can help our children manage stress anytime it arises. I don’t know about you, but helping my children manage their stress reduces my stress as well. So, I’m going to take a breath and relax while teaching my children to breathe deeply to manage stress as well.

Teach Your Child the Dance of Effective Venting

Venting can be a beneficial way to manage feelings…sometimes. After all, not all venting is the same. In fact, some venting will simply escalate your negative emotion. For instance, physically releasing anger or other dark emotions will escalate that emotion. So will acting the negative emotion out verbally. And escalating the emotion without moving toward a resolution can actually destroy your family. In fact, studies suggest that anxiety and grief increase when all we do is release the emotion verbally or over social media. In other words, not all venting is helpful. For venting to be beneficial, we need to do the “two-step.”

  1. The first step involves finding a trusted person who will listen and validate our experience. However, if this is all we have, venting will produce the negative results noted above.
  2. We also need the second step. We need the listener to help us clarify the situation, provide a new or objective perspective, and offer sound advice. This will require that we do more than simply vent, we must listen and accept input as well.

How can we teach our children this delicate dance of effective venting?

  • First, model effective venting. That will require you doing the next steps in your own life as well as teaching them to your child.
  • Teach your child multiple ways to deal with emotions. The more tools we have, the better prepared we are to deal with whatever emotion arises. Teach your child a variety of tools for managing emotions. For instance, you might encourage them to write about their thoughts and feelings, journaling to gain clarity. Teach them to breathe through difficult emotions. They may also utilize other creative ways to express their emotion, such as drawing the emotion, writing a song about the emotion, or thinking of a metaphor for their emotion. Teach your child how to think about the situation in ways that will allow for greater emotional control. For instance, encourage them to consider the evidence, keep a mole hill a mole hill, or considering what they might tell a friend in a similar situation. Having multiple ways of managing emotions can also help make your child’s emotions your friend.
  • Help your child learn a broad emotional vocabulary. Taking time to label an emotion puts space between the emotion and our response. It gives us time to think about the situation and emotion so we can act thoughtfully. We become more objective in our reasoning rather than emotional. Overall, that means we have more power in managing our emotion.
  • Teach your children to choose wisely when considering who they want to vent to. It is not wise to vent to “just anyone.” Teach your child that the person to whom you vent needs to listen well AND have the ability to offer positive insights that broaden your perspective, insights that help you move toward a positive resolution.
  • Teach your child to prompt the listener to offer their perspective. Teach them to recognize when they are simply rehashing an emotional situation so they can stop and ask the person listening for their perspective, a way to think differently about the situation, or a positive way to respond. Teach them to take the initiative in seeking their input and then humbling themselves to listen.

These four tips can help your child learn the dance of effective venting. Of course, you need to practice these steps so you can model the dance yourself. Before long, you’ll all practice the dance well and enjoy the music.