According to this article, emotion coaching is one of the most important parenting practices of all time. Kids can be awfully emotional, particularly around the ages of 2-5 years. My middle child, JJ, had one dark day last week. A day when everything fell apart, laying on the ground like dejected pieces of uncooperative Lego.
He wanted his Lego fixed in a particular way. But frustration got the better of him. (You know how it is when we get frustrated right? Nothing works, and everything seems to be pitted against us.)
He melted into a boiling mess. I was also getting frustrated, but I stood by and tried to console and encourage him, offering my help whenever his fingers struggled.
“This can be hard sometimes,” I offered, “the pieces keep falling off.”
“They just don’t act the way we want them to, don’t they?”
I tried to use empathy and acknowledge his feelings.
At some points, he kept quiet, which I took as a good sign. But as he kept going and new struggles emerged, he would start up again.
As you can probably tell, we’ve experienced our fair share of bad days. But I’ve learnt some very valuable lessons along the way, and here are nine of them.
1. Focus on the problem. Don’t view the child as the problem.
Trust me, I know it’s so easy to look at your kid and start thinking, “you’re being a pain in the a** again.” But the moment we do this, we start to see our child as being the problem, instead of having a need that needs to be resolved. It takes our attention away from the problem at hand and curbs our ability to solve it.
2. Try not to get angry
Over-reacting comes easy when you’re already irritable or just had it up to here on any given day. But take some breaths and keep calm, and things usually take a turn for the better. At the very least, they will learn to eventually calm down because you are.
If you do react, try to regain composure by leaving the scene for a couple of minutes – drink some water or just look at the sky – whatever that helps you refocus. Then head in there and press rewind. It doesn’t always need to go downhill, you’re capable of turning around and trudging uphill. The same goes for your child.
It isn’t easy, especially in the heat of the moment. But this encourages me:
Try thinking this way: ‘You know, I don’t want my child behaving like this, but right at the moment he is. I can handle this. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, I give him permission to do this right now. In time, we’ll learn something new.’ When in your heart and mind you give him permission to be the way he is, your stress level goes down and you feel more in control. It works.
– Helping Your Kids Deal with Anger, Fear, and Sadness, H. Norman Wright
3. Involve them in problem-solving
Tell yourself, there are at least 10 ways to resolve this peacefully. Verbalize your thought process. Let your child see first-hand how problem-solving is done and you’ll see him following your example down the road. “Hmm, you want your skate-scooter now but mummy forgot to bring it out for you today. What can we do about it?” If it’s the first few times you’re problem-solving together, maybe give some prompts or suggestions as starters. (“Hmm, shall we race home and see who gets to the scooter first?)
You’ll be surprised. Sometimes your child will come up with his own creative solution; at the very least it will distract him from his overflowing emotions and start thinking, which is exactly what you want.
4. Label their feelings.
Give him the words to express his frustration. Eg., Are you feeling sad or mad? The funny thing is many emotions get expressed through (or covered up by) anger. When someone feels hurt or rejected or scared, it’s common to see them lashing out in anger. But it’s good for us to be able to recognise the actual emotion that’s going on and be able to process it in a healthy way.
The book I quoted above has this to say in relation to identifying feelings:
Repeat out loud what you think is occurring. If your child was hurt, let him experience hurt. If your child was afraid, let him experience fear. If your child was frustrated, let him experience frustration.
5. Give them avenues to express their emotions
We all need healthy ways to express our emotions, especially when they are overwhelming and negative. One way is to talk about them with someone you trust. Now as much as you may find it unnatural to share about your feelings with your kids (especially when you’re feeling cranky or upset yourself), it actually helps them to see you model how it’s done.
After that unhappy episode with his lego, we started to play with some chalk. I suggested to JJ to draw out his feelings when his lego wouldn’t cooperate, and he drew an angry face on the ground. (See below) The next time, he gets unhappy with his toys or siblings, I’ll remember to ask him to DRAW his emotions out. Or maybe suggest that he release the negative energy by cycling up and down the block really fast. (I know going for a walk/run certainly helps to lift my mood!)
6. Give opportunities for social and peer to peer interaction
Plan play dates. Or just head down to the playground regularly so he is able to make new friends, or play with existing ones. To be honest, sometimes I’m tempted to stay away from such play dates because of the 101 possibly negative things that could happen. But I realise that kids just need practice, and the more he socialises, the more he gets to learn about coping with another person’s demands or needs, and negotiating with others.
7. Use games as a tool
If you have simple boardgames that are age-appropriate for your kids, play with them. There are so many things that you can learn through games, such as how to be a gracious winner or loser, turn-taking, and being patient while waiting for the others to make their moves.
8 . The aftermath
This is an important stage of building emotional awareness. Take advantage of it; if you don’t, it’s like having a quarrel with your spouse and then sweeping it under the carpet. No one learns anything from it, and the incident is very likely to repeat itself.
The aftermath is where you are both calm and able to think back to the incident and explore questions like, “How did you feel when [incident] happened?” and “What can we do differently next time?”
9. Seize teachable moments
Teachable moments crop up every day, and the best way to impart emotion skills is to seize these moments.
Our children are constantly showing us how they feel through their facial expressions, how tightly they hold our hands, or by their tentative walk. We can take these precious times to talk with them how they feel and to listen and share our own feelings. Parents and teachers often don’t take the time to talk about feelings, and yet when we do, we get enormous rewards. We give our children a vocabulary that will help them navigate through the difficult moments and celebrate the great moments with others. These are the children who will be there and to say “Love you.” – Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn
What are some strategies that you employ at home to train your kids emotionally? Please share them with us in the comments below.
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