5. Welcoming emotions.
Emotions are a message. Once we get that message, they begin to evaporate. If we try to push them away, we may push them out of our conscious awareness, but the feelings are still there in the body, waiting for us to notice them. I call that the Emotional Backpack, because we end up lugging those emotions around until we have a safe opportunity to feel them and let them go.
Sometimes, our empathy is enough support for kids to notice what they’re feeling and move through it. Other times, children become whiny, demanding, impossible to please. They try to pick fights with us. They can’t express it in words, but they know they just don’t feel right. That’s a sign that your child needs to cry.
So welcome those tears; they’re nature’s way of healing us. When your child is cranky, aggressive, or simply seems unhappy, instead of sighing and hoping she’ll snap out of it, think of those early warning signals like red lights on the dashboard. Time for some preventive maintenance in the form of a scheduled meltdown.
What’s a scheduled meltdown? It’s the same meltdown your child would have had at the playground or supermarket, except you give him a chance to have it in the safety of your home, when you can really listen and empathize without the pressure of schedules or onlookers.
First, acknowledge any irritation you have at your child, and shift yourself to a more empathic frame of mind, so you can be compassionate. This is essential, because unless you do, your child won’t feel safe enough to move past her anger to the more upsetting feelings that are behind both the anger and her “bad” behavior. So use one of the many posts on this website that show you how to shift yourself back into a calmer state, such as this one: When Your Child Makes You Want to Scream: 10 Steps To Calm.
Your goal is to help your child express what’s going on. Most kids can’t articulate it, of course, but if you help him, he can show you. How? Set a kind limit about whatever he’s doing:
“Sweetie, you’re yelling, and that hurts my ears. Can you tell me what you want in an inside voice?”
If he gets angry, ratchet up your empathy a notch:
“Oh, Sweetie, I see you’re upset… I’m sorry this is so hard.”
Your warm presence will create the safety he needs to let himself feel those uncomfortable tears and fears behind his anger. If you can stay compassionate enough (which is the challenge for most parents), he’ll feel safe enough to go behind the anger to show you his hurts. Sometimes he can express them verbally, but often he’ll just need to cry. Afterward, he’ll feel better — and act better.
Remember that showing you the more vulnerable feelings driving the anger is what’s therapeutic, not the anger. He needs a witness to brave all that hurt, loneliness, powerlessness and fear that he’s been stuffing down. After a good cry, he’ll be back to his best self. He’ll feel closer to you. And since you’ve gotten the meltdown out of the way at a time when you can really listen, you’ve just dodged the tantrum that would have happened right when you had to leave the house to pick up his sister.
So that’s preventive maintenance. You’ll find that investing this time up front actually saves you time. That’s because children raised with empathy, roughhousing, special time, routines and welcoming emotions are better able to regulate their emotions, and therefore their behavior. So you can spend more time laughing and connecting, and less time in the breakdown lane.
Of course, this raises a number of other questions.
- What if your child gets angry, but never breaks through to tears?
- What if your child is having a meltdown and another child needs you at the same time?
- What if you have a strong-willed child who tests every single limit, no matter how consistent you are?
Find the original article here.