Were you raised by a parent who told you to “just deal with it?” Were you taught to ignore your feelings or that they weren’t important? If we tell our hurting children to just deal with it without giving them a listening ear, and tools for how to handle their feelings, it won’t help your child develop emotionally, and a significant component of our children’s struggles are with their BIG emotions.
Todays post is the last installment of the four-part series on feelings, specifically how to deal with feelings. In the post Be Available (feelings: part 3), I went over talking to your kids about their emotions and feelings, which is the stepping stone for how your child will be able to handle what’s going on inside of them.
Now your child needs assistance with how to handle those BIG feelings. In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Bruce Perry says, “The more anxious someone is the harder it is for him to accurately recall and describe his feelings, thoughts and history. But most critically, when a child is anxious it is much more difficult to form a positive relationship, the true vehicle for all therapeutic change.” Obviously our goal with our children is to form a positive relationship, because if we don’t have a positive relationship with our child, no attachment will take place.
The way to help alleviate the anxiety your child is experiencing is to create a basis of labeling feelings. As they develop a firmer grasp on what specific feelings are, you identify them in your child, yourself, and others. You can then move on and talk about ways to deal with each feeling if needed.
If your child is anxious, you can give him options for calming, such as a stress ball or something he can squeeze in his hand. Drawing is also great to express any emotion (Carol Lozier has a wonderful APP on her website that lets a child do this).
If your child is angry and hitting, you can give her something to hit; a drum or a pillow. You give words at the same time if your child hits you. For more verbal kids, you concisely explain that they shouldn’t hit. For young kids, or ones who don’t have a lot of language, you can say, “Hands off” if they are hitting something inappropriate (a t.v.), or “Be gentle” when that child is hitting you, then redirect them to something they can hit. Telling a child who doesn’t grasp language, “Don’t hit” is counter productive because they only process the last word, “hit.”
A child who is hitting is trying to express a feeling, or something they want to tell you, and I explain this more in detail in The Behavior Battle. If you have a good idea of what your child is feeling and why your child is hitting, go ahead and give her the words, “You’re mad because you had to leave (our friends) house.”
My son, Jeremiah, is four, has Autism and doesn’t talk, but as he’s gained language comprehension, we’ve talked about being mad, sad, and scared. We don’t talk about the more complex feelings such as lonely and frustrated because he wouldn’t understand them yet. (You can use those words with any child who is developing typically.) It has been really cool to see his response when we label how he’s feeling. He will be crying (his go to reaction when he’s angry, frustrated, or scared is to cry or throw himself), and I will name how he might be feeling, “You’re mad because you have to leave your toy here.” He will now stop crying when I get it right! Sometimes he’ll begin crying again, but it’s great that he can calm down, even if it’s short-lived, when he recognizes that I understand how he’s feeling. This is an enormous improvement over what he used to do – just cry.
It’s kind of like when you’re dealing with something and you talk to a friend and they get it, they listen to you vent, and they acknowledge what you’re going through. We can walk away from that interaction and feel better and not so alone.
The same thing has happened with my daughter, Payton, who is farther ahead developmentally. One day she was wailing in the backseat, something hadn’t gone her way. I told her I was disappointed because something hadn’t gone my way in the same situation she was crying about. You know what? She immediately stopped crying because I was empathizing with her, and she noticed how I was handling my disappointment.
Before your child has made some attachments, their response to some of this will be anger, but you still want to listen to them, show them you care, and help them label and deal with their feelings. It’s all part of the attachment process.
Some other ways to deal with big feelings is to have your child take in a deep breath and smell the flowers, and blow hard to put out the candle. There are dozens of APPS for learning about feelings, a few are listed here (but remember you are their greatest teacher). An APP that my daughter likes is Toca Boca band, your child can make a band with different instruments and sounds. This helps a child express feelings.
Don’t allow your kids to express their emotions in hurtful ways, but give them avenues to convey what they need to. Always be available to listen and talk to your children about anything.
Throughout this series have you been able to talk to your kids about their feelings? How did it go? I would love to hear from you!
Check out the other posts in this series:
emotional balance begins with us (feelings: part 1)
name those feelings (feelings: part 2)
be available (feelings: part 3)
Bruce Perry has so many words of wisdom. It was my privilege to hear him interviewed a short time ago. What a delight! Great post!