feelings

😡DEALING WITH OUR CHILDREN’S STRONG EMOTIONS 😢



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I recently received a parenting question I’d like to share with you.

Can you share any resources to help my kindergartner deal with negative emotions? I think she prefers to distract herself or bury her feelings, and even avoids talking about negative things that may happen, such as a fight with a friend or being reprimanded by the teacher. Some of it may change as she gets older, but I want to help her express herself so that she can deal rather than mask what’s bothering her.

 

Initial Response

It’s absolutely wonderful, first of all, that the parent is reaching out, even while knowing that the likelihood is that her child will change over time, with age, and learn other skills about how to express herself. But why not dive in early, while they’re young, in Kindergarten, to give some support? Here are steps to follow to accomplish this.

 

Check Your Feelings

The first thing I like to suggest is that you check your own feelings. If your child is relaying a story about how they got left on the playground, the first thing we need to do is check our own response level and what we’re thinking and what we’re feeling. Do we know the story, or are we hearing a familiar story?

 

Sometimes as our children are telling us stories, our own emotional response is triggered. And if it’s something that we don’t feel good about, like, Oh I do remember how it feels to be left on the playground, that’s going to show up as we’re interacting with our child. So we do need to check in with our own emotions about things like being sad, being lonely, being angry—all those strong emotions are often difficult to manage for a lot of us. We need to recognize that those are our feelings, and our feelings are based on our experiences, but our children are not necessarily going to experience the same situation in the same way, with the same feelings that we did.

 

Remember, Emotions Are…Emotions

The question refers to “negative” emotions. Now, I understand what the parent is trying to say, but “negative” emotions could also sound like “bad” emotions. The truth is, emotions aren’t bad, and they’re not good. They just are. Feeling happy is just like feeling sad in that they are both part of a spectrum of emotions that we feel. So re-labeling that, not only to ourselves but to our children is really important. We don’t want to make feelings such as anger, jealousy, frustration, seem like they’re something bad. We want them to be allowed and welcome to be expressed. With that in mind, it’s best not to label them as good or bad, or negative or positive.

 

Give Each Feeling a Name

The other thing about labeling is, that in itself, naming it, Dr. Dan Siegel, in his books, talks about “Name it to tame it.” And what that does is it actually gives freedom to the expression of the feeling. It helps to process and release the feeling.  Just being able to say, “I am feeling angry; I am feeling frustrated,” is so important. As our kids get older, we can give them more words, instead of just angry, frustrated, jealous, confused, disappointed. The older they get, we can give them more language, so that they can identify with different feelings. So really, “name it to tame it” is huge. If they are unable to name the feeling, offer it to them.

 

“Say, could you be feeling angry?”

 

“Might you be feeling frustrated that you didn’t get to play with the friends that you wanted on the playground?”

 

Go ahead and give them some language so that they can then start to learn how to use it for themselves.

 

Love Your Local Library

Another suggestion is using books. If you go to the library, the librarian should be able to help you find books about feelings. And those are the best tools. Because books speak kindergarten language, for example. I end up talking too much, I end up saying things that I don’t really need to say, or over explaining things, so if you use a children’s book, that book will speak to how it feels to be sad. How it feels to be angry. How it feels to be happy or confused and all of that. And it allows your child to then take some of that pressure and onus of their own feelings off of them and instead focus on the character in the book. And see the character resolves and navigates those feelings. So, I absolutely love books. I highly recommend you partner with your librarian, because they are absolutely wonderful in helping to find appropriate age level books that speak to feelings and emotions.

 

Refer to Your Own Experiences

Give your own examples! If my child is having a tough time explaining a frustration, or a sadness, or something like that, I might think back to a time that I felt those feelings, or in everyday life, like, Oh man, I was so disappointed I didn’t get to go hiking with you guys. I had to work and I kind of felt left out. I’m really happy you guys went, but I was also feeling sad that I was a bit left out today.

 

Something like that really shows that if the parent can handle that difficult emotion of sadness, they are now modeling what that looks like for the child. And our children learn so much from how we deal with our own emotions.

 

I let them in on it if I’m feeling sad. Let’s say there was a death in my family, and I was feeling sad about it but I don’t talk about that and I don’t show that I actually cried—that’s a disservice. We can share that with our children. We can tell them, I loved Grandma so much, and I am so sad that she has died. These tears are because I miss her. I know I’m going to be OK, and I know this feeling will pass, but right now I’m feeling sad.

 

That’s OK to share with our children. In fact, it’s very important.

 

 Picture This

The last thing I want to mention is drawing. This such a great way for kids to express themselves and express their feelings. When I used to work in schools, this was an activity I did a lot with kids as I was teaching them about labeling their feelings, and what those feelings looked like. We played a lot of games with kids with, What does happy look like? Show me a happy face! How would you feel if someone took your eraser? Show me that face, and they would show a sad face.

 

Drawing is another opportunity. It could be something specific, like, Oh it seems like you might have had a difficult day at school. Instead of telling me about it, do you want to draw a picture about what it was like at school today?

 

Or, having nothing to do with a specific situation, you might say to your kid, Hey, today let’s do some drawings. Why don’t we make a feelings book? I’d love to make a book about all the different feelings that we feel. Let’s draw a picture of you being happy. Show me something that makes you happy.

 

And allow your child to draw a picture of that. And then something that makes you sad, something that makes you scared or frightened. And that just gives you, again, an opportunity to make all these feelings OK. It’s something that’s not scary to deal with.

 

I really hope these ideas come in handy. If you have other ideas or suggestions, I’d love to hear from you!

Weathering the Storm of Anxiety

Storm/Anxiety

I’d like to share a little story about how stress—our own stress that we feel as parents—can show up in the way we parent our children.

 

Storm’s Coming

About two weeks ago, we were expecting a small snowstorm. We were supposed to be getting around one to two inches. My husband happened to be traveling that night, so he wasn’t going to be home. I thought, eh, one to two inches, no big deal.

 

Later on in the day, it really was coming down. I thought, “What’s going on?” I hadn’t been on Facebook and I hadn’t turned on the news, so I didn’t know what was going on. And it was seriously coming down, so I opened up Facebook to see what’s going on with the weather, and I read, We’re going to be getting 5 inches, 6 inches, 7 inches.

 

Concern Sets In

It wasn’t a conscious thing that happened, but all of a sudden, my chest started feeling really compressed. I was having difficulty breathing.

 

Part of it was awareness. I was feeling some sense of a panic attack or anxiety from this snowstorm that was coming and knowing that my husband was not going to be there. I don’t like being alone with the kids when there’s a major snowstorm. I just get worked up about how I’m going to handle shoveling and taking care of the kids and “what if this”, and “what if that”—that catastrophic thinking that happens with anxiety sometimes.

 

Response to Stress

So, I felt my chest squeezing in and I thought, alright, I have to take some deep breaths. I have to change my mindset, so I started working on that. But the change doesn’t happen quickly. It took some time, and meanwhile, as I was having these thoughts and these feelings, my kids were going about their afternoon, and I noticed that I started snapping at them.

 

I wasn’t being horribly mean or anything really terrible, but I was snapping, I was really short: Just do this, Do that, you know, not my typical warm, compassionate parenting style of calm and connection.  My verbal tone with my children was similar to how I was feeling on the inside: this compression and tightness.

 

Time to Breathe

It took me a good half hour or 40 minutes, to be able to get my breathing back in order and be able to focus on more positive thoughts, focus on the strengths that I have, focus on the supports that I have to get me through the snowstorm.

 

After taking a pause to work on my mindset, I was able to feel much better, which also resulted in me being able to parent from a place of compassion, and not based on the fear and anxiety that I was feeling. (But I’m lucky, because I’ve done all this work on conscious parenting. So for me, that timeframe probably was about an hour.)

 

Here’s a recap of what happened:

I found out we were having a lot of snow, then I started having these anxious feelings that were noticed in my chest and in my breathing.  I started to have the “what if” thoughts swirling through my head.  I started snapping at my kids. Finally, I started working on relaxation techniques.

 

All of that, from start to finish, was about an hour. I was conscious of the process and I had the skills that I have used from Conscious Parenting to help me move through it.

 

Anti-Anxiety Checklist

 

1.     I was aware of the physical sensations/feelings that were happening to me, which is one of the first clues when dealing with anxiety.

 

2.     I acknowledged the thoughts that were happening in my head—all the “what ifs” that were going on.

 

3.     I noticed my behavior change- I was snapping at my children.

 

4.     I took notice of my feelings. If you can, take notice of your feelings that are happening on the inside, notice the thoughts in your head, and then notice your behavior—how you’re behaving toward people, whether it’s your spouse or your coworker or your children.

 

With anxiety, these are three elements that you want to call out. You want to recognize them. You don’t want to suppress them and say this isn’t happening, because it is happening. Call them out! I recognize that my chest is tightening. I recognize that my thoughts are saying, “I’m afraid of having this big snowstorm without my husband here.” I recognize that I’m not treating my children nicely, and I’m being short with them.

 

As soon as you recognize it you can free it, it open it up, and start moving through those feelings, thoughts and behaviors, moving through them to a different place.

 

The Art of Parenting

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First, I’m going to talk about our children and then I will talk about us. Because there’s really two parts to this equation—it takes two to tango, right? Behavior is a form of communication. Our children behave in certain ways to communicate. And sometimes, because they’re really young or because they’re frustrated, they can’t get the right words out. Either it’s a lack of skill—they don’t know how to communicate the right way—or it’s just because they can’t, because their brain is flooded with all the frustration or the madness, or whatever’s happening. They’re trying to communicate a need.

 

It’s our job as parents to figure out exactly what that need is. We have to dig deep, and try to look under the behavior, the tantrum, to what the “no” saying is all about and figure out what that all is. As parents, Dr. Siegel said that we can foster secure attachment if we remember the following 4 “S”s.  Our children need to be: Seen, Safe, Soothed and Secure. Those are four things that our children need. They’re looking for a way to get attention, which means that they need connection.

 

What Do Our Kids Need?

What we need to figure out is, what is it that our kids need? Do they need something physical or social.   Do they have a need for food, water or sleep?  Do they have a need to be hugged or squeezed (physical input)? It could also be something where they just need that connection. They’re looking for attention, and they need connection. Is it that they need five minutes with the parent? Or is it that they need attention from the person they’re fighting with? Maybe their sibling isn’t paying attention to them and that’s why they’re fighting.

 

Looking at what that need is, is really important. We have to be little detectives to figure out what is the behavior saying, because the child can’t say it.

 

Finding Teachable Moments

The other part is being able to teach our children. Discipline is a teaching opportunity. So instead of punishing our children, let’s try to teach them so they learn the right way. We can do this by role modeling.

 

We do this by showing our kids a different way to speak to get their needs met. We show our children, instead of grabbing a toy, we ask, “When you’re finished with that, can I play with that toy?” And we physically role model with our words. That way it’s a teaching opportunity and we’re not always resorting to punishment. This practice and role modeling will help alleviate some of the stress for the child when they are in a hyper- reactive state.

 

Talking About Feelings

Again, if the children are young, or if they are in a state of hyper-reactivity, they’re not able to come out with the vocabulary themselves. Being able to talk about the feelings and naming the feelings empowers the child. Dr. Dan Siegel suggested naming to tame the feeling “For all of us, as teenagers or adults, when intense emotions erupt in our minds, we need to learn to feel them and deal with them…Learning to deal with emotions means being aware of them and modifying them inside so we can think clearly.  Sometimes we can name it to tame it and help balance our brains emotional intensity by putting words to what we feel…There are even some brain studies that show how this naming process can activate the prefrontal cortex and calm the limbic amygdala!”.  Giving a name to the feeling often disempowers the feeling, and just brings some relief to the situation. It’s really important to practice naming the feelings that are happening.

 

“I see that you’re frustrated.”

“Are you feeling frustrated because your sister won’t share the toy?”

“Are you feeling frustrated or sad? Are you feeling sad because I won’t lay in bed with you?”

Offering this kind of role modeling for our children is really important.

 

So that’s really the crux of what I want us to pay attention to with the kids: It’s looking at behaviors, communication, teaching, role modeling, and talking about feelings. And again, we need to do this. And it takes practice.

 

Where We’re Coming From

I’m going to move into parenting, to us as the parents. I want all of us to really bring some self-empathy to the situation. I want us to forgive ourselves when we make these mistakes. We can be the parent we want to be, but we need to make some changes. I’m hoping some of these ideas will help you along that journey.

 

As far as the parent, that’s a big part, and a lot of times it’s difficult for parent to hear this, but we need to accept the situation for what it is. A lot of times we see our kids fighting and we want to stop it.  If everyone is safe, what we need to do is accept the situation: our kids are fighting and go forward without judgement. Without saying to your older child, “Oh, you’re always the one starting this fight with your little sister. Can’t you just share? You should know better.” Those are all phrases that we say with judgement, and that doesn’t really allow for honest communication.

 

Let’s accept the situation for what it is. It’s happening. We can’t change it. So, we have to accept it for what it is. And what we can do, what we do have control of, is looking at our internal landscape.

What is happening on the inside?

What’s happening in my head?

What are the words that I’m saying to myself, what are the phrases I’m saying?

What are the feelings within my body, physiologically? Is my heart rate increasing? Is my stomach tight? Am I trying to detach from my children and just ignore the situation and hope it goes away?

 

Really get in tune and be a witness to what is happening inside of you.

 

Responding with Compassion

Parents often respond with fear. Because we’re afraid that our children are going to continue fighting and that they’re going to fight forever, or they’re never going to sleep by themselves, or they’ll go to college still sucking their thumb, or whatever it is. This is a reaction based on fear, instead of responding with compassion, which is what our children really need. Our children need our compassion, so that they feel understood. So that they know, hey, my mom gets me. And we think, Even if I don’t agree with the situation, I understand you’re frustrated. You might have not handled it the right way, but I understand you’re really frustrated.

 

Reasons for Our Response Style

And the last thing, the most important thing, is to understand why you are being triggered. A lot of our parenting beliefs and what frustrates us comes from the way we were parented.

 

We need to understand what those triggers are. For example, I have two girls. I am one of two sisters, and I was really mean to my little sister when I was a kid. So now I tend to get really frustrated with my older child when she’s mean to her little sister because I remember being mean to my sister, and I don’t want my older daughter treating my younger daughter the way I treated my little sister. So that easily triggers me.

 

You need to look inside yourself and think about, where does that trigger come from? Once you understand the trigger, you really can start to sit with it a little bit longer, and accept that as is, and create some space. And that space creates opportunity for change.

 

I think I’ve spoken about this before: breath is so important. When our kids are fighting, when we’re frustrated because they want us to lay with them at bedtime, or they want us to help pack their bag to get out the door or whatever it is, when we take a deep breath, we create space, and that space gives us the opportunity for change. It gives us the opportunity to look at the situation, to look within ourselves. I hope all of this is really helpful in supporting you in some of these parenting challenges.

 

Thank you for all the comments I’ve received over the past few weeks. If any of you practice some of this, accepting the “as is,” and moving forward without judgement, and looking at your triggers, I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear how that transformed the situation.