When my daughter was a preschooler, I remember joking about her future: “If she’s got a 13-year-old’s attitude now, how am I going to handle her when she’s actually a teenager?” Her emotions seemed bigger than she was, far too big for her tiny body. Surely she would be able to handle them better when she was older!
If only it were that easy, right? As our children grow, so do their feelings. Add to that the pitfalls of puberty, friendship drama, and kids who are desperately trying to be adults, and we have a minefield of feelings to navigate.
We might sometimes wish to return to the simplicity of toddler tantrums, but we must instead forge new ground as we walk alongside our kids. Emotions for kids can be difficult. Here’s how to help your child handle their emotions.
Why Emotional Understanding is Important for Your Child:
One of the certainties of parenting is that your children will experience all sorts of emotions (sometimes all in one day!) and will routinely face circumstances they don’t like. Helping your child to grow emotionally involves teaching them to recognize certain emotional responses in themselves and then to express those feelings appropriately.
Developing skills in this area will help your child to relate better to others, manage his or her behavior, and cope with situations of all kinds. It may also be a great benefit to your parent-child relationship, as your child grows in his capacity to explain his disappointments or frustrations with words, rather than acting out.
As parents, we can’t insulate our children from the ups and downs of life. What we can do is teach them to navigate those experiences in a way that grows their personal character as well as preserves and enhances the relationships in their lives.
What You Can Do:
1. Give feelings a label.
For your younger child, these names will be as basic as mad, sad, and happy. As your child grows, those terms will become more specific and refined, such as frustrated, disappointed, or anxious. Identifying and naming feelings is essential to learning how to cope with them.
2. Discover the trigger.
Help your child back up and identify what led to feeling this way. It might have been when you said “No” to something he asked to do or something said or done by a sibling or friend.
3. Affirm the right to talk it out.
Let your child know that everyone feels these emotions sometimes and that there’s a right and a wrong way to express them. Let them know that they may not be able to help feeling how they do, but they can and should manage how they express that feeling. Your child must learn to be responsible for his or her words and reactions, regardless of the situation.
Your child must learn to be responsible for his or her words and reactions, regardless of the situation.
4. Teach specific coping skills.
It may be helpful to your child to learn to remove herself from a situation or take some time to think before responding. For a younger child, it might be as simple as counting to 10 before reacting.
5. Don’t try to fix everything.
The idea is to help your children learn to work through the problem, not to simply remove the problem. Why? Because as they get older, you’ll be less and less able to manipulate the world around your children and insulate them from a crisis. Good parenting means training them to handle whatever they encounter with emotional maturity and integrity.
6. Give emotional support.
Often, all our children need is a good hug and an acknowledgment that we know how they feel. When your child is working through something, keep the standards of behavior high, but show lots of affection to help them along. Additionally, tell them how proud you are when you see them handling their emotions with increasing maturity and reacting appropriately to tough situations.
Moms, how do you help your child handle their emotions? We would love to hear from you!