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Help Your Child Manage Their Emotions. First, Identify + Express Your Own.

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As I’ve gotten older (and wiser), I’ve come to learn that some of the traits I had been most proud of for so many years are the very ones that are to my detriment. I believed that when I was upset or angry, brushing it off and moving on was not only helpful, but healthy. What I failed to understand is that in doing so, I never took the time to truly become aware of all of my emotions. Thus I did not allow myself to feel my emotions. 

Many years ago, when I began seeing a therapist, I boasted about my ability to not let things bother me. Each time I relayed a story that I said angered or upset me, my therapist would ask how I felt at the moment the situation that I was describing happened.. “I don’t know,” I’d always respond. Then she would ask what I felt as I recounted the situation to her. “Nothing really,” I’d say. When my therapist told me she had dozens of patients who wished they did not feel anything, I secretly laughed, feeling proud of what I had accomplished all of these years – just forging ahead.

Over time, I came to learn how this these actions weren’t helpful to me, or anyone around me. They weighed me down (literally and figuratively).  So I decided to make a concerted effort to become more aware of my emotions. I began to identify them. And after I felt like I mastered awareness, I was able to take the time to notice how these emotions felt in my body. It was not an easy process (and something I continue to work on). I don’t know how long it took, nor can I pinpoint precisely when it happened. But once the floodgates were open, I began to understand why my therapist said her patients wanted to be more like me. Feeling our emotions is not easy. Staring them down the face is outright scary. 

As my work continued in therapy – and in my day-to-day life – it became evident that self-awareness and expressing emotions is crucial to one’s health – physical, emotional and mental. When we pay attention to how we think and how we feel, we begin to better understand ourselves and our behaviors. And when we are self-aware, we are less likely to let our feelings affect unrelated things.  While it’s unrealistic to think that we will be perfect in this regard, the good news is that even if our emotions affect our behavior, we are more likely to understand why.

For example, after yelling at my children, I try to take a step back and think about the situation and if my reaction matched the circumstances. Inevitably, I sometimes noticed that I overreacted. And if I dug deeper, on occasion I would realize that I had feelings like anger, frustration or sadness from other unrelated things, feelings that I totally displaced on them. It would be easy to ignore what transpired and simply pretend that my behavior was no big deal. But in situations like this, not only did I feel compelled to apologize, I felt it necessary to cite the reasons for my unwarranted behavior. 

By apologizing and sharing with our children how our own emotions about other things affect our relationship with them, they can gain many important life lessons.

  • A simple apology, and perhaps an explanation, can get things back on track.
  • People are not perfect. And when mistakes happen, the world doesn’t come crashing down. And those who love you can forgive you. 

By sharing our own feelings with our children, we also open the door to being able to teach and speak with them about their own feelings. 

For example, after getting cut from the team, your child may stomp their feet or pound their fists as they scream, “It’s not fair!”  A helpful response could sound something like this, “I hear you stomping your feet and crying. You must be angry. It must have been upsetting to get cut from the team, especially after you spent so much time practicing.” Connecting feelings (anger and sadness) with the situation (working hard and not succeeding), as well as actually naming the emotions, fosters the development of emotional skills. Once we can aid our children in identifying their feelings, we can then help them develop coping mechanisms that enable them to deal with uncomfortable feelings. 

Here are 10 healthy, actionable techniques/ways to induce calmness: 

  1. Releasing emotions appropriately – e.g. crying
  2. Talking with trusted friends or family about the situation
  3. Breathing
  4. Visualization
  5. Playing with pets
  6. Taking a bath
  7. Exercising
  8. Coloring / painting / drawing (any form of art)
  9. Singing / dancing / listening to music
  10. Baking / cooking

By providing children with healthy methods to cope with uncomfortable feelings, they develop the confidence to handle challenging situations. In turn, this increases self-esteem. Both confidence and self-esteem are two of the most beneficial attributes we could ever want in our children. 

Once we help our children open their eyes to their thoughts, feelings and behaviors, they will then begin to recognize similarities and differences between themselves and others. This “other-awareness,” or empathy, is what will enable them to connect with others in positive and meaningful ways. Brene Brown, a research professor who has studied empathy for 16 years, believes that connecting with people is the key to understanding why we’re here. It’s what gives us purpose and meaning to our lives.  She says that empathy is what moves us toward deep, meaningful relationships. And when we feel that we are being seen, heard, and valued, we can derive sustenance and strength.

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