Can you imagine a child trying to deal with strong emotions and having no idea how to? For our kids, such moments tend to result in tantrums, meltdowns, stomping, yelling and a whole lot more. Feelings of frustration, sadness, anger or hurt are big feelings that even adults have trouble dealing with. For some grown men and women, strong emotions result in yelling, name calling, cursing, and worse.
This is why it is so important to ensure that children learn how to talk about how they feel, so that they carry this important method of communication through to adulthood.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably trying to find a solution to the craziness of these moments with your child. I’m no child psychologist, but I can offer what has been working in my family recently: and I mean with both the adults and the children. Because my children are almost 7 and 5, we wrote these three steps out and stuck them around the house, so everyone knows what to do. It is important that parents, carers, grandparents etc are all on the same page, or it won’t work. Children thrive on consistency.
So here’s what to teach your kids when you sense they are about to get emotional:
Step 1: BREATHE
Three big breaths in and out. Okay, I know it sounds cheesy, but breathing really does help calm your mind. We all need a minute when we’re dealing with strong emotions, so breathe first, talk second. If you think your child will only do one big breath, that’s better than nothing.
Step 2: ACKNOWLEDGE THE FEELING
Say, “I am feeling _________________ because _______________.” By this age, children know a lot of “feelings” so the first blank could be filled in by words such as angry, mad, sad, frustrated, upset, annoyed etc. They also need to explain what it is that is bothering them. This part is pretty easy for them (especially when they are ready to blame a sibling).
Step 3: ASK FOR HELP
Now ask, “Can you please help me _____________?” What is the end of that?
“Can you please help me by giving me a turn with the game?”
“Can you please help me and stop snatching my stuff?”
And that’s it! Three steps done.
There have been great times, like when my almost 5 year old son was having about to start having a meltdown because he was very thirsty, and wanted to pour himself some water but the water jug was too full for him to lift. I reminded him about the three steps and he said, “Mama, I am feeling mad because the jug is too heavy. Can you please help me pour it?” Result!
And then there are times when it’s “I am feeling angry because she said this Lego house is hers and I said it’s mine. Can you help me? Can you please tell her it’s mine?” where I want to bang my head against a wall, but hey, it’s better than the meltdown! (Btw, in this kind of situation, I very often turn it on the kids. “Well, I have two children here, and both of them say the house is theirs. What would you do if you were the mom?” After a few minutes of back and forth, they usually figure out something themselves.)
I will admit, it has also helped us adults. I have bent down to their level (direct eye contact really helps to get their attention) and said to my child, “I’m feeling frustrated because you’re not listening to me. Could you please clean up your puzzle before you take out your dolls?” (“FINE MOM!”)
On a side note, I’m also trying to move away from, “Why do you keep leaving stuff lying around?!” to acknowledging their joy in something. “I know you’re really excited to play with your kite, but could you please help by putting away your bike first and then playing with it?”
Ah, this parenting gig. It’s always a struggle. But learning how to handle our emotions is a tough job for adults, so you can imagine how hard it is for children. We can’t keep expecting children to be quiet, or to simply lock up how they feel. Containing strong emotions, or not knowing how to deal with them can lead to many psychological issues later in life. We’re parents, and that means it’s our job to teach and guide these little beings we chose to have.