Understanding and identifying emotions is difficult for adults, let alone for children. Children often learn from their environments how to identify, deal with, and handle emotions. Often if children don’t know how to handle an emotion, they will react to it. Modeling how you feel, how you respond, and how you calm down to big emotions will help your child to learn appropriate ways to respond to their difficult and overwhelming emotions.
Ways you can help model are:
Verbalize and Name YOUR emotions.
When you experience big and uncomfortable emotions, it is easy to hide them from your children. Instead, name your emotions. Verbally share the emotion you are experiencing, what made you feel this way, and how you are going to respond or calm down from this feeling. It is equally important to identify comfortable emotions and how you respond to those, as well.
There are going to be times when you don’t respond to a BIG emotion in an appropriate way, and that is okay and completely normal, but it is important to take responsibility for your reactions. You losing it is not because of your kids, it is because of you. If you do lose it or your behavior does not match the way you would like your child to react in a similar situation, take responsibility-Model that what you did was not okay and problem solve together a better way to respond to the situation and emotion next time. This helps kids to both learn how to change their behavior and in turn to learn they cannot blame others for their reactions to difficult situations and emotions.
Help your child name THEIR emotions.
When your child is yelling, you can let them know that their elevated voice leads you to believe they are experiencing anger right now. OR their behavior looks like they are feeling angry right now. While reminding them that you cannot understand them when they are yelling, being physical, or throwing things, but that you would really like to listen, talk, and understand when they have a calm voice.
Validate THEIR emotions.
There will be times when your child is upset because they are not getting what they want. Let them know you hear them, that their emotions are valid, and that they still have to follow the rules and your decisions. For example, you said no to dessert because it was too late. Your child’s emotions of being upset are totally valid! Let them know, “I hear that you are upset because we cannot have dessert tonight, and we still have to follow the decision.” You can even add in the next time they can earn dessert, if they are able to work through their emotions appropriately.
Written by Michele Flynn, MA, BCN
Michele Flynn, M.A. is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is Board Certified in Neurofeedback. She has a variety of experience and/or training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, and Play Therapy.
Her passion is working with individuals and families to overcome difficult seasons, barriers, life circumstances, and diagnoses, such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, “difficult behaviors”, as well as other mental health diagnoses. Her ultimate goal in each session is to provide a safe and supportive environment to help clients feel respected while working and growing toward their full potential.