Show and Tell (dealing with your & your child's emotions)
Have you ever had that moment where all of a sudden you think, "I AM MY MOTHER!!" One of my favorite topics to speak with parents about is the importance of becoming aware of what we are modeling for our children. We all want our children to develop healthy habits, coping strategies, positive social skills, and positive relationships. We read books to them and have talks with them about these topics to try and instill important values. What is looked at less however is how much our children are learning from observing us. Our children learn more from what they see than anything we tell them (and we learned the same way). Walking the talk is so extremely important when teaching our children how to cope with and manage their emotions in a healthy way. There are ways to begin doing this at the family level such as 5 big deep breathes before bed or 5 big deep breathes when waking up. Joining in with them supports them in learning how to developing healthy coping skills on their own!
Below are 3 steps you can take to teach your children how to cope with their emotions:
1) Normalize Feelings:
When our children are dealing with tough emotions, we instinctually want to say something to make it better. We say things like, "don't worry, it will get better," or "what can you do to forget it?" While these are well intentioned responses, they are an indirect message to our children that say, "what you're feeling right now isn't important so just move on." Normalizing feelings is a new way to respond. When our child is having a tough time and is crying we can say, "it seems you are really sad. Please tell me more. Mommy/daddy gets sad when..." We want to give space for them to talk about the experience as much as they need and we then want to connect. The connect part is the most important. Healing occurs when we are open and vulnerable with someone and they say "me too." Be human with your kids. You don't have to pretend like you don't feel. The goal is to allow our children to fully express the emotion, feel validated, connect and move forward.
2) No Emotion is Off Limits
Many of us are scared of anger. When our children become angry (with us especially), we want to change the experience immediately. We want to be aware of what emotions we are rewarding and what we are punishing. When feelings such as anger and hurt arise, address them head on, even if your child is acting out. Give them a replacement behavior to get the anger out such as hitting a pillow, banging a pillow on the couch, throwing a ball or squeezing their fists. We don't want to change the experience but we want to get in it with them. Ride the wave. Be there with them. Encourage healthy expression. When we show our kids that we can handle our anger and their anger, we are teaching them that it is OK to be angry. If we send our kids away to "cool down" or invalidate their experience, they will never learn how to embrace their anger and express it in a healthy way.
3) Be a HUMAN parent
I often hear parents speak about feeling as though they need to protect their children from their hurt, anger and sadness. They feel as though they need to keep it together in front of their children to model "being strong." My response is that the best gift to give a child is that they have a human role model for a parent. Our children are learning everywhere else in their lives to shove down their emotions, hide their pain, hush their struggles and ignore their sadness. This is not the message we want to strengthen! Being a human parent does not mean making your child your confidant, shoulder to cry on or emotional support. It means showing up as you are and openly saying, "mommy is so exhausted today and feeling a little down," or "I am feeling sad today because something happened with a friend." What we then do with these statements is important. We can ask our children to do some breathing with us, to paint with us, to go for a walk outside or to simply just sit with us and laugh. We want to SHOW and TELL. We want to model that we can have a wide range of emotions and cope with them in a healthy way.
Being asked to cope with your emotions in a new way AND being there to support your child in doing the same can be tough! Small steps lead to big changes. Simply begin by noticing what you do when you are experiencing different emotions. How is your energy when you come home from work? When you are getting your children ready for bed? When you are having a conflict with your child? If we can catch ourselves in our own dysregulation and quickly turn it into a teachable moment, we are starting the process!! And then begin to pay attention to how you are responding to your child's attempts at expressing his/her emotions. Are you jumping to fix or are you able to listen and validate? It could be helpful to write down some go-to responses to get started such as, "I am so sorry you are feeling this way. That sounds so hard. Do you need a hug?" Allowing our kids to go through their experiences on their own (with our support), is critical in their emotional development and something they will then take for the rest of their lives.