Congratulations. Being a father is one of the greatest joys you will ever experience…if you jump all in and get involved. Don’t stand back timidly watching as “the women” do the “baby work.” Jump in. Add your own flavor of playful interaction to the mix. You, your child, and your wife will reap the benefits of your active involvement. If you’re not quite sure what to do, start with these suggestions.
Observe your baby. Enjoy gazing into his/her eyes. Watch how they move. Put your finger in their palm and feel the strength of their grip. Rub the tip of your finger on their cheek and watch them turn to suck on your finger. Gently rub their back, their stomach, their head…and see if they relax or play. Talk, and watch them turn to find your voice and then gaze at you. Soon you’ll be marveling at their skill on the soccer field or the dance stage as you continue to observe. Take it all in and watch their coordination and abilities grow as they mature. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.
Learn a new language:baby talk. You know, that sing-song, higher pitched voice people use when talking to babies. I know, it’s kind of strange, but watching our babies respond to you speaking “their language” is well worth it. You’ll see delight in their face as you talk to them in baby talk. Don’t get too lax though. You’ll soon have to learn a new language—the language of childhood, then preteens, then teens. It’s a constantly changing and growing process. Paying attention and learning the nuances of language at each age will help you connect with your teen. Give it a try… it’s pretty amazing.
Change a diaper… or two or three…or more. Changing diapers is about more than hygiene. It’s about connection. Changing your baby’s diaper is an opportunity to engage your child and build your relationship with them. While you change their diaper, talk to them. Sing to them. Have playful interactions by bringing out the “tickle bug” (your hand gently tickling their belly). Sure, you’re changing a diaper, but you’re also spending a few minutes making connection—a fun, face-to-face, playful connection. This connection will lay the foundation for connecting throughout childhood and adolescence. Don’t miss out on building the foundation.
Play, another foundation piece of building connection. Need I say more? Have fun with your child, even when they’re babies. After all, what’s better than a baby’s laughter? Play. Get your child laughing. Laughter and play are amazing connectors. As a father, you will bring your own style of play into the relationship, a style from which your child will benefit greatly.
Feed your baby. Again, feeding is about more than getting nutrition into your child’s body. Taking the time to engage your child in eating is a tremendous opportunity to connect. You can even make it playful. Sing an eating song. Talk in funny voices. Make the choo-choo train whistle or fly the food in on the airplane spoon. As they grow, you can enjoy conversation over a meal or snack. Have fun. Eat. Connect.
Bathe your baby. Bathing is another tremendous opportunity to connect with your baby while having fun and taking care of hygiene. Enjoy the moment of the bath. Watch them smile. Watch them play. Follow their lead and play along while you wash them. It will become one of your favorite times…and it only lasts so long. They will soon outgrow their need for your help.
Love your baby’s mother. When your baby experiences a strong connection between you and their mother, they will experience a sense of security and safety. As a result, they will laugh more. They will rest more. They will interact more with you and their mother. They will engage the world more comfortably and grow. Don’t let your marriage get lost in the demands of parenting and life. Let parenting become an experience that draws you together as you share in watching the miracle of your baby growing and learning.
Fatherhood is amazing. Don’t miss out on the beauty of fatherhood by standing in the background. Get involved. Your child will experience amazing benefits because of your loving involvement. And you will have one of the best experiences of your lifetime.
Your teen’s brain is changing. It’s maturing and slowly (sometimes it seems painfully slow) becoming more efficient. But parents don’t get to see the actual changes in the brain. Instead, we see the behaviors that result from the ever-changing brain—behaviors that include, among other things, risk-taking, a growing and improving ability to argue, and mood changes. Not surprisingly, we tend to see and remember only the negative aspects of these changes. But each of these changes has a positive aspect as well, one we would not want our teens to miss out on. Still, navigating the adolescent years can feel like a roller coaster. It’s full of ups and downs, curves and twists, that go by faster than we realize. When it’s all over we take a big breath and look back with nostalgia at the joys of the ride. If you have a child entering adolescence or in the midst of adolescence, here are 4 ideas to help you have the best ride possible.
Remember that risk-taking behavior has a positive dimension. A teen’s willingness to take a risk increases their opportunities to try new things, learn new skills, and develop life-long interests that may translate into a future vocation or hobby. Risk-taking also increases a teen’s confidence in their skills and abilities. With that in mind, focus on providing opportunities for healthy risk-taking.
Focus on connection. You will experience times in which you must correct and teach your teen but focus primarily on your relationship with your teen. Enjoy lots of time and activities with your teen. The stronger your connection, the more likely your teen will accept correction from you and, better yet, the stronger your relationship will be when your teen emerges into young adulthood.
Statements like “boys will be boys” and “their brain is still developing” may have a kernel of truth; but they are not an excuse for poor behavior. Teens can practice self-control. They will fall short at times, but they can continue to learn and grow. They can speak and act politely and respectfully. Encourage them to do so.
Dwell on the benefits rather than the deficits of teen behavior. The assumptions we make as parents impacts how we see our teens’ behavior. Put aside the assumptions and look some of the benefits of their behaviors. Risk taking behavior allows a teen to explore options and learn healthy limits. A teen’s idealism encourages them to dream of a better world and ways of creating that better world. Moodiness opens a door for teens to have greater compassion for others and a passion to help. Taken together, these teen attributes may motivate our teens to create change in a world that needs change. Find ways to creatively tap into these strengths and benefits for your teen. Encourage them to mature into people who help make the world a better place.
One writer compared adolescence to the Israelite’s 40 years of wandering through wilderness. In some ways, adolescence may feel like wandering through the wilderness at times. On the other hand, adolescence can feel like a roller coaster filled with ups and downs, twists and curves. And a ride on the roller coaster is always better with a good partner. So, partner up with your teen and your spouse for the ride of your life. When it’s all over, and it will be over before you realize it, you can enjoy recounting each twist and turn, dip and swirl with your teen as you laugh and reminisce about the times you had together.
Teens seem to have two speeds: lounging around the house or running around “who-knows-where” with their friends. At home, they often appear “bored” and maybe even a little grumpy. With their friends, they are energetic and full of smiles, exploring new places and trying out new activities. Sometimes we may even think they are engaging in too much novelty with their friends. However, while exploring their world and interests can carry some risk, our teens’ energetic exploration of their world actually benefits them in life. In fact, they need to engage in this exploratory behavior.
A study published in 2022 shows us a couple of the benefits of this energetic exploration. The researchers in this study followed teens and young adults (13- to 27-years-old) using GPS trackers. The GPS trackers could measure how often the participants visited novel locations over a 3-month period. This provided “real-life data” of exploratory behavior and novelty seeking. Based on this data and the participating teens’ self-report, the study suggests:
Daily exploration peeked during the transitional years of 18 to 21.
All ages (13- to 27-years) reported better moods on days in which they had explored more. In other words, exploration was linked to greater psychological well-being.
Those with higher than average levels of exploration also reported larger social networks. In the long run, a strong social network is associated with greater emotional well-being.
Teens who explored more also reported more risky behavior. This was not true for adults. Perhaps adults have better learned their limits, strengths, and interests.
Taken together, these results suggest that teens and young adults are explorers. They are exploring the possibilities that will come with adulthood. As a result, our teens and young adults benefit from exploration and novelty seeking behaviors. It prepares them for adulthood. Whether it be visiting new places, trying new things, experimenting with new hobbies, or sampling new friend groups, exploratory behavior enhances our teens’ well-being and helps them establish stronger social connections.
I have often heard about the dangers of using manipulation when parenting. Manipulation in parenting contributes to an increased risk of rebellion, excessive guilt, and even depression in the child being manipulated. But what exactly is manipulative parenting? What practices make up manipulative parenting? We need to know the answers to these questions, so we don’t accidentally engage in manipulation. With that in mind, let me explain 5 ways in which parents might manipulate their children as they try to discipline.
Withdrawing love or isolating their child. Children need their parents. They need to know their parent’s love for them is unshakable, present, and available. When we send our children to their room for an indefinite period of time or suddenly withdraw ourselves emotionally from their world, they become insecure. They question their own lovability. And they will do almost anything to regain the security of their parents’ love and attention. When we withdraw our love or isolate our children, we have used their innate need for our loving presence and attention to manipulate them into behaviors we desire. So, rather than give your child an indefinite time out, give them a timeframe (a short timeframe). Then restore the relationship. Even better, give your child a “time-in” instead of a time-out. If you find yourself needing some emotional distance from a situation with your child, talk to them first. Explain to them that you simply need time alone and how they can provide that space without even leaving the room by quietly engaging in an activity on their own. Also, give them a time frame for your time alone. Once again, reunite with them immediately afterwards.
Eliciting a “guilt trip.” We have all seen parents attempt to make their children engage in desired behavior or make a particular decision by sending them on a guilt trip. You know…phrases like, “I can’t believe you would do this to me after I…” or “I taught you better than that” or “You drive me crazy. Why don’t you just sit still and be quiet?” Even a look of disappointment and shame can send our children on a guilt trip. Using guilt to elicit the behavior or decisions we desire in our children is manipulation…and detrimental to their emotional health. Rather than sending your child on a guilt trip, explain what behavior you desire and the reasons you desire it. Take time to teach.
The “silent treatment.” “Silent treatment” is another way parents isolate their child. The still face experiment (seen in this video for both an infant and a married couple) reveals how the silent treatment negatively impacts our children. They become emotionally dysregulated and will do anything to reengage with their parent. Getting our children to do what we want by engaging in ” silent treatment” is manipulation. Learn, instead, to talk with your child. Teach them. Explain yourself. This may include becoming a bit vulnerable at times. But, when we talk, teach, and listen, our children will grow. You will grow. And their positive behavior will increase.
Humiliating, shaming, or embarrassing. Of course, this is manipulative. We never want to humiliate, shame, or embarrass our children. Really, we want to model healthy ways of interaction in our own interaction with them. We want to treat our children with the same respect and love with which we want them to treat us and others in the world. They will learn through their experience with us.
Social comparisons. Social comparisons manipulate by inducing guilt, embarrassing, and even humiliating our children. There is no need to compare our children with anyone else. In fact, we find our children’s best self in their uniqueness. Accept them for “who they are,” strengths and weaknesses alike. Acceptance carries great power to promote their growth and maturity. Children learn to value themselves and their capacity for growth when they find acceptance in and from us.
These five practices are signs of manipulative parents. Each one has a detrimental effect on our children. Each one backfires in the long run. Each one interferes with healthy relationships. But each once can be replaced with loving respect, kind instruction, healthy interactions, and acceptance. When we replace manipulation with respect, instruction, acceptance, and healthy relationships, we will enjoy a growing relationship with our constantly maturing children.
The new year is just around the corner and many of us are contemplating a “New Year’s Resolution” for the coming year. As parents, we might consider what kind of resolution could help us become better parents. To help us decide on a good parenting resolution, I recommend a “2-week parenting audit” to help you think of possible resolutions around parenting. Don’t worry, it’s not hard or guilt inducing. It simply helps us identify areas in which we can grow. This “audit” consists of listening to yourself as you talk to your child and counting 3 things.
Listen to yourself and count how many times you say “no” compared to how many times you say “Yes.” Don’t get me wrong. “No” is an important word for a parent. “No” sets limits for our children’s health and safety. But “no” can also interfere with our children’s creativity and appropriate exploration. Learn to say “yes” as often as you can. When possible, find a way to modify a “no” into a “yes”. Instead of “no, you can’t have a snack right now,” say “yes, after dinner you can. I don’t want you to ruin your appetite with one before dinner though.” Learning to say “yes” can help a parent think about the “true reason” for having the rule or limit. Knowing the “true reason” for a rule can also help a parent identify a “yes” alternative that still satisfies the rule. Children will learn the “spirit” of the rule or limit when a parent learns to effectively balance “no’s” with “yes’s.”
Listen to yourself and count how many times your correct negative behavior compared to how many times you acknowledge positive behavior. It’s easy to find ourselves constantly correcting our children. Unfortunately, a constant focus on correction blinds us to the times our children engage in positive behaviors. Our children will also become discouraged believing they “never do anything right.” We need to make it a practice to look for the positive behaviors in which our children engage and to verbally acknowledge those behaviors. If we make this a daily habit, our children will surprise us with even more positive behaviors. We will also discover the “need” to correct negative behavior decreases as positive behaviors increase.
Listen to yourself and count how many times you offer your child a directive compared to how many times you offer an opportunity to connect. Yes, a lot of tasks need to be completed around the house and our children often need prompts to help them remember to do their part. But when directives outweigh connection, you have a recipe for rebellion. Sometimes a directive can even be couched in an opportunity to connect. For example, “Please help me cook dinner tonight. We can talk while we cook.” Or “The living room is a mess. Help me clean it up so we have more time to do something fun together.”
After you have counted and looked at each of these comparisons, make your New Year’s Resolution. Do you need to say “yes” more often? Do you need to acknowledge positive behaviors more often? Do you want to speak words of connection more often? Or, if you’re like me, you may want to improve in all three areas. Each one will help build a more intimate relationship with your child while teaching them important life skills. I have to ask: which one will you work on next year?
Learning can happen anytime and anywhere…not just in school. In fact, most learning probably occurs outside of school. Our children learn by watching us. They learn while playing. They learn everywhere. But if you really want to get your children “ready to learn” in more formal settings like school, a series of five studies out of Ohio State University offers a simple, yet powerful suggestion. In this series of studies, participants played a simple computer game in which one group saw “colorful images of unfamiliar creatures” later identified as “flurps” and “jalets.” They received no information about these creatures in the first phase of the study. They simply saw them. A second group played the game and did not even see the creatures.
In the second phase of the study, both groups received explicit instruction about “flurps” and “jalets.” The researchers measured how long it took participants to learn the difference between them. The first group, who had previous exposure to the creatures, learned the differences between “flurps” and “jalets” more quickly than those who had no exposure to them. Simple exposure prepared them to learn.
In another study, participants would see the creatures in the middle of the screen and have to push a one button if the creature jumped to the left or a different button if it jumped to the right. No one told them that one category of creature always jumped left, and another category always jumped right. Surprisingly, participants did not recognize this difference while playing the game. Mere exposure did not teach them which creature jumped in which direction. But, that exposure did allow them to learn the differences between the creatures more quickly than a group who had received no exposure to the creatures. In other words, the exposure did not teach them about the creatures, it simply prepared them to learn about the creatures.
What does this mean? It means that merely exposing your children to new places and things prepares them to learn about those places and things. They may not learn from simply experiencing the new object or place, but the experience prepares them to learn about it more quickly when they receive actual teaching. In other words, you can prepare your child to learn by simply exposing them to new things. Here are some ideas to prepare your children to learn.
Go on vacation. When you go on vacation, your children encounter new places, new people, new foods, new ecosystems, new animals, new history, and more. Simply experiencing these things prepares them to learn about them in their school studies, readings, or family talks.
Listen to a variety of music. Don’t get stuck in one style of music. Let your children experience a variety of music. Also, buy some toy instruments and let them play with them. Let them bang on the Tupperware, shake the toy tambourine, hum in the kazoo. As a result, they will be better prepared to learn about rhythm, melody, harmony, and instruments.
Play with sports equipment. Toss a ball around. Play catch. Swing a bat or a tennis racquet around. Run. Have fun. It will prepare your child to learn about sports when they get more serious.
Play board games and card games. Games can expose children to the concept of “chance” and numbers as well as strategy and more. Counting dice, counting moves, deciding if it’s worth the risk to ask for another card…all these prepare a child to learn math and science skills.
Cook with your child. Measuring ingredients for pies or cookies prepares your child to learn about math.
These are just a few ideas. There are many more. Take the time today to engage your child in something new and get them “ready to learn.” What activities can you think of that will expose your child to a skill that they will later learn as part of life?
We have witnessed a dramatic rise in children with depression and anxiety that began even before the COVID pandemic. In fact, anxiety among children increased 27% from 2016 to 2019. Depression increased 24% during the same time period. In 2020, about 9.7% of children carried a diagnosis of anxiety and 4% had a diagnosis of depression. (See Research Update: Children’s Anxiety and Depression on the Rise.) I don’t know about you, but I find this very disturbing. So, you can imagine how excited I get when I find research suggesting a simple way to potentially reverse this alarming trend.
A study led by the University of Exeter offers a perfect example. In this study, researcher surveyed nearly 2,500 parents of children 5- to 11-years-old. The surveys asked parents how often their children engaged in “thrilling and exciting” play that might arouse “some fear and uncertainty” as well as their child’s play in general and their general mental health and mood. They discovered that children who spent more time playing outside had fewer of the “internalizing problems” associated with depression and anxiety. In other words, they were less likely to have symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Playing outside provides greater opportunity for “thrilling, exciting” play. It gives children the opportunity to experiment with and safely test their limits. It is adventurous, rewarding… and free. Experimenting with their ability, experiencing adventure, and feeling rewarded combine to increase a child’s confidence, ability to plan, self-awareness, and positive sense of self. And, because it’s fun children will do it often.
So, if you want to decrease the chances of your child experiencing diagnosable symptoms of depression or anxiety, take them outside for some adventurous play. Give them the freedom to encounter challenges and risks in their daily play. If you’re looking for some adventurous activities to try…
Go for an overnight camping trip.
Go for a hike.
Go swimming, paddling, or rafting on a river or lake.
Create an obstacle course in your backyard…or living room.
Explore the woods with a friend.
Let your children walk to the store alone.
Try out new skills like skateboarding, jumping on a trampoline, or rock climbing.
Climb a tree.
What other adventurous activities have you engaged in with your children? Or allowed your children to engage in with other children?
Trust. Our children need to develop a healthy ability to trust if we want them to have healthy relationships. In psychology, our ability to trust develops based on our relationship to our parents—our attachment to our parents. If children have a secure attachment to their parent, they learn a healthy trust of other people. If they have an insecure attachment to their parent, they may struggle to trust other people and, as a result, struggle to some degree in relationships throughout their lifetime. Is this truly the case? Good question.
A ten-year study of 128 toddlers and their mothers assessed this idea. At the beginning of the ten-year study, researchers evaluated the mother-toddler attachment using the Strange Situation procedure (a state-of-the-art method of measuring secure vs. insecure attachment in toddlers). Ten years later, when the children were in their early adolescence, the researchers observed how the adolescents evaluated the trustworthiness of a stranger.
Adolescents who had tested insecure as toddlers showed less ability to identify “low trustworthy” facial cues. On the other hand, toddlers who had tested secure in their mother-child relationship were better able to differentiate trustworthy from untrustworthy facial cues.
The ability to differentiate between trustworthy and untrustworthy facial cues contributes to adolescents having fewer relationships in which an untrustworthy person hurts them…and more positive relationships with trustworthy people. That sounds like something I want my children to experience. How about you?
You might be thinking, “But my children are well past the toddler years. Is it too late?” No. It is never too late to develop a positive, secure relationship with your child. And as you do, they will grow and learn. They will better learn who to trust and how to trust. How can a parent develop a positive, secure relationship with their child. Here are five brief ways you can build a more secure relationship with your child.
Set apart time for your child. Developing a secure relationship takes time, lots of time. Spend time with your children.
Enjoy your child’s exploration of the world around them. Get to know your child and their interests. Get excited about their interests and provide them opportunities and ways to explore those interests. Talk to them about their interests and what they are learning. Be excited with them. Admire their exploration of themselves and their world as they explore interests and hobbies.
Be available when your child encounter struggles, obstacles, and fears. You don’t have to fix the situation or make it easier. In fact, bailing them out will hinder their growth. But your relationship with your child will grow when you are available to support, encourage, and gently hold them accountable in difficult situations.
Comfort your child when they become upset or disappointed, hurt, or frustrated. Be available as a safe haven to which they can return for comfort and love when challenges arise. Listen to them. Empathize with them. Comfort them. Problem-solve with them. Do all this within the loving embrace of a comforting relationship.
Play.Play is an opportunity to spend time with your child, allow them to explore themselves, and comfort them in challenging situations. Play is an opportunity to have fun with your child, admiring their abilities and their wisdom. Play will build trust. Play is an opportunity to build relationship. Enjoy times of play with your child.
Committing to these five actions will build a stronger more secure relationship between you and your child…a relationship from which they can explore themselves and the world, knowing you are a safe haven to which they can return to refuel with love and go on.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.