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How do I Help My Child Deal with Big Emotions

It has to be one of the questions we ask ourselves repeatedly. Managing big emotions can be hard for little ones and it doesn’t get easy on its own. As puberty creeps earlier and earlier in our culture, our brain development isn’t keeping up. Our childhood brains are no match for the emotions of puberty. Because children lack the ability to self-regulate their emotions, parents need to intentionally help provide them with a sort of scaffolding – much like that which a builder would use to support his work. 

We can start to provide our children with a scaffold for the mind by doing four things.

  1. Give them space. We all need to process a little on own before taking the input from others. Let them vent. Do not distract them, or let them distract themselves from the situation. Encourage them to go for a walk or run or have a good cry. Hoover a bit and when they are ready to talk, be not only physically but emotionally available. Be aware of your body language and make sure you are emotionally available. Listen first to what they say, and then parrot it back so that they know you hear them.

“Am I understanding right that you are feeling ____?”

 or simply ask them

“How do you feel about all this?”

2. Provide them with context. Children aren’t great at perspective taking. Let them try to process their emotions with the help of your questions, Help them to keep perspective by providing them with context. Examples of this could be questions like…

“Is there another way to look at this situation?”

“I see you feel let down by this situation, and this is a very unusual thing to happen.”

“You aren’t used to having things like this happen.”

3. Speak the truth. Your job is not to validate their feelings if their feelings are based on lies. Your job is to proclaim the truth about the situation.

“I can see how this is upsetting, and I also would be __, but I don’t agree with what you just said.”

“I wouldn’t let others talk about you this way – you are not _____ (dumb, ugly, unloveable etc).”

4. Act. Determine if there is any action item for either of you. What do they need to move on?  “How can I help?” is a great question. Sometimes as the parent you already know what they need and if they don’t, you can simply ask “Can I do ____ for you now?” Offer your help – You child may need a hug, help formulating a response to a third party, or something else tangible. It is great for them to know they are not alone.

We all have big emotions. Parenting brings up big emotions within us as well. Children however need our help to recognize, process, interpret and evaluate, and then move on. Learning to deal with our emotions is a skill that we all need to acquire at some point in our lives. Give your child a head start by helping them deal with their emotions today.For more on helping your child to build emotional resilience, check out my podcast on this topic at Parenting Smarts Podcast.

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