Parenting Big Emotions
Updated: Oct 2, 2020
Over the years, I have learned some techniques that massively help when addressing children's emotions and behaviors. I want to share a few small changes to your approach that may make all the difference.
1. Remember anger is often a secondary emotion. If your child is showing anger through acting out behavior, remind yourself that your child may actually be experiencing feelings such as disappointment, sadness, rejection, or anxiety.
2. Address your child by having them come closer to you ("Jackson, come here please, what's wrong?") instead of away from you ("Morgan, go to your room!"). Give them time to respond and make the right choice to come to you. As they learn that you are calling them over to help rather than to punish, they will begin to stop behaviors like running away, hiding, or continuing to act out.
3. Get down to your child's level, preferably on your knees and at even eye levels. This shows them you are fully invested in them and takes away a feeling of authority and replaces it with a feeling of empathy.
4. Gently hold their hands. Remembering again, that your child is likely feeling other emotions beside anger. Many of those difficult emotions are best remedied with comfort, love, and attention. Holding their hands can also occupy your child's hands to interrupt problem behaviors like hitting and throwing.
5. Allow them to explain the situation in their own words. Provide them understanding of their perspective and provide an alternative, appropriate solution to their problem ("Aidan, couldn't you and your sister take turns?").
6. After they have calmed down and understand the more effective and appropriate way of dealing with their emotion and the situation, then address the problem behavior ("Jaki, I understand you wanted ice cream but you need to eat dinner first. It is not okay to be yelling and rolling on the floor because you want ice cream. You will not get ice cream when you act like that."). Then remind them of the better solution to dealing with their feelings that you have already discussed.
7. Before moving on, have your child review the expectations for next time (Okay, so what are you going to do next time?"). I also believe having your child apologize helps to teach responsibility and how to later reconcile/repair relationships when they have made mistakes.
8. The most important step. The final interaction with your child should be of love - a hug, a kiss, a high-five, or an "I love you". Its crucial to help your child understand that their behavior and mistakes do not impact your love and their worth. Yes, you disapprove of their behavior, but you never disapprove of them.
NOTE: With older children and teenagers, these steps may be modified to their appropriate age. For example, you may not get down to their level and hold their hands, but you might sit next to them on their bed and put your arm around their shoulder. Or the conversation may require more depth and expression of their feelings and thoughts. In this case, take the time to listen; spending an extra 20 minutes with your child when they are upset could save you daily struggles in the future. However, as children get older, they often need the same guidance, love, and accountability.