Imagine that you are confused, scared, hurt and angry and you don’t know how to communicate that or that you can even put words to it. Then imagine that because you feel that way you are put in a corner to think about it or told that it is wrong to feel that way. As a child you internalize that there must be something wrong with how you are feeling and yet you don’t know what is behind that feeling or how to move through it. You begin to feel stuck and the feelings may even intensify.
Here are some strategies that parents can use that will empower their child to work through their emotions and behavior.
Often you can sense when your child is beginning to feel over whelmed by an emotion. There is usually a sign that they are getting frustrated, angry, or confused. They may cry, hit things, stomp, withdraw. When you see this happening stop and check in with yourself that you aren’t reacting with any kind of judgment or surprise. Remove both of you to a new space to take a breath, stretch, move, and then you can ask a question to see if they can tell you what was going on.
If they can’t tell you in words, you can just be with them and ask yourself, “What do I know about this? What do I sense is going on?” Ask your child if the feeling they are having really belongs to them. Often kids will pick up other people’s emotions and take them on as their own. Explain that they can simply pack it all up and send it back. Doing it together shows them that even you too sometimes take on the feelings of others. When your child has calmed down, ask them what they would like to do now? It will be a time of seeing that they can move forward and leave the incident behind them.
Have you ever made a choice and wished you could do it over? Give your child the opportunity to have a do over if it is appropriate. It may be a simple matter of asking, “What would you do differently next time? “Asking other questions can be insightful too as long as they don’t judge. Share with your child that when you make a choice that doesn’t work out, you learn how you can improve on it. Use examples from your life.
If there is a problem and your child is acting out of frustration, let him know that there may be some other possibilities that would give him a different outcome. Ask him what he thinks those may be. If he can’t think of any in the moment, ask him if an idea you have might work out as a possibility? Always let the child check in with what might work for him. If he isn’t in a place to choose because he is too caught up in the frustration and has just shut down, move onto something else- go for a walk, play a game, do something that will remove the frustration until you can come back to it and talk about it.
Sometimes children do things and we don’t quite understand how they could do such things. We jump to assuming they did it to be “bad” or to “hurt” something or someone, when in fact that isn’t the case usually. Ask them questions with the intention of just getting info not to react or judge them. Then you can direct and guide them in the direction for them to get what it is they want.
If your child is making choices that end up in disaster or don’t work out to his well-being, guide him in processing the choice he made. Ask him questions like, “How did that work?” “How did that not work?” “What would be a different choice you could make next time?” “How will that work for you?” For younger children you may need to offer some ideas and follow that up with, “Which choice would work best for you?” You can always allow your child to offer additional choices. Children will surprise you with how much they do know and the ideas that they can come up with.
Children want to have fun. All too often adults want to take the fun away and make life serious. What would you teach your children about doing chores if you brought some fun into it? What if your children saw you enjoying life no matter what you are doing? Would they get that life can be fun no matter what you are doing?
Give your children lots of opportunity to be outside, to play, to run around, to connect with nature, to be curious and to breathe in the spaciousness of the outside world. Your children will learn that there are other options to choose from besides TV and computer games that are fun and enriching.
Laugh a lot. Laugh at anything and everything. Laugh together and find the humor in any situation. Let kids experience laughing at themselves. It will teach them not to take life so seriously. It helps if you can laugh at yourself, too.
Children can often get their feelings out through their own creativity. They can express their feelings through art- drawing, painting, singing, music, dance or even telling stories. Children also learn by watching adults. How much would you like to express your feelings through creativity? How much fun would it be to have family art time? Be aware that you don’t need to tell your child how to be creative, allow their own creativity to come through without any reaction from you.
Helping your child make connections to their physical presence and how their body feels at different times is beneficial for getting in touch before things escalade. Simply asking, where do you feel this (frustration, anger, sadness, confusion, etc.) in your body? What does it feel like? Helping them to know that what they are expressing as an emotion is taken and locked into the body and can be a source of dis-ease as well as warning that something needs to change. It is also beneficial to connect how their body feels when they are happy, giggly, silly, calm, at ease, and relaxed. This will also allow them to be more mindful of the difference and the ultimate power to choose how they would like to be.
Keep this list handy to resort to when situations arise that you feel too frustrated to handle. It will allow you to have some alternatives at hand.