Helping children to handle their emotions contributes to their sense of well-being. But first, your own internal landscape needs to be in order. When you can stay calm, you can help children navigate their emotional life.
Let’s say something frustrates them and they are disturbed. Not reacting to this takes a measure of restraint. Maybe your first impulse is to want to quiet them and avoid dealing with an outburst. Telling a child to stop their emotions is like telling a river to stop flowing.
Often we tell children to use their words, but not all children have the emotional vocabulary to do so. It takes time to develop the language of emotions, and far longer to develop emotional regulation. (Even adults may struggle with this)
You can help them explore their feelings. First, by acknowledging their feelings and sharing what you notice.
“You seem upset.” (sad, mad, disappointed, afraid, etc.)
Strange how something this simple works. It validates their feelings and lets them know the words for what they are feeling.
If you’re not sure what is bothering them you might say, “Tell me what is making you ___?”
If they can’t tell you, try to share about the situation from your perspective. You might say, “It looks to me like you are ___ because ___”
The words, “I’m sorry you are ___”, calms children.
“I can understand how you might feel like that” adds compassion.
If your child is younger, redirecting their attention is helpful.
“Oh, look ___”
Older children may respond to “When I feel frustrated and disturbed, I try to take some slow deep breaths. Sometimes I go for a short walk. Talking about what’s upsetting me with someone who cares helps me too.”
Then ask, “Do you want to walk a little?” or “Do you want to talk about it with me?”
These small gestures and statements help children learn to name and manage their feelings. Children who have a range of emotions and find acceptance in expressing them grow into emotional maturity with greater ease.
Can you stay calm?