There came a time, in the relationship with my son, and his with the world, where we reached a stage where it was possible that he was going to have to face some difficult emotions. I asked myself how I could teach him how to manage his feelings, and realised that my own ingrained coping mechanisms were far from ideal and possibly even harmful, ranging from ignoring them to blaming myself, a heavy burden for a person of any age.
So I went back to the drawing board, did a whole lot of research and began to put together a new emotional toolkit. It was a painful process, because it involved examining methods that I had been taught to use and acknowledging them so that I could move forward and teach my little boy more effective mechanisms.
Don’t get me wrong, we still have our “meltdowns” (adult,and child!), we are only human, but I have found that understanding a little bit more about how a child’s brain works and being sympathetic to that has taken us to a new level of emotional maturity.
Here’s a few simple techniques that I have in my toolbox of understanding:
- Put a name to the feelings. I bought a book, The Great Big Book of Feelings, which presents a wide range of feelings and encourages discussion about them. I don’t pretend to be “happy Mummy” all the time, I feel it is important for my son to know that we all have feelings and so if I am feeling happy, excited, sad, frustrated, confused or anything else, I name the emotion and discuss it if needs be. It’s enabled him to name what goes on in his own head and from a mother’s perspective it is much easier to deal with an emotion explosion if I know it is frustration and not anger or hate, for example. From his perspective, it is helpful for him to know that I am a bit cross with someone at the end of the telephone and not cross at him.
- Play a game. When my son was younger we used to pull faces and each other had to guess what emotion was being expressed. It always had us in fits of giggles. We would draw faces with different expressions on, and discuss the possible feelings of characters in books.
- Never tell your child “never mind” or that their feelings are silly. You might feel that fear of a fly is a bit daft but they clearly don’t, and so you need to acknowledge the fear, comfort and protect, and only when the threat is not there and they are calm, begin to deal with steps to remove or fight the fear. When emotions are heightened, a primitive part of the brain is being used and no amount of rationale at this stage will help. Comfort them and then when everybody is calm, you can begin to discuss coping techniques that may help them next time.
- Work out a coping strategy, and never get mad. This is the tricky part, and depends on the event and emotion. For example, physical hurt always gets a cuddle, and now that my son is old enough to express his needs, I follow his lead about what happens next. Anger and frustration are two very difficult emotions to cope with but solutions might include an angry dance, furious scribbling on paper, punching a cushion or a vigorous run. Most children will go through a stage of wanting to hit when they are angry. Acknowledge that they are angry, and when the moment has passed, explain that physical violence is never OK. Be calm.
It’s a journey, and one we are still travelling on. I am practising meditation but he is still a bit too young to sit still for long, though he takes an interest. Have you got any tips to add to this toolbox?
Written by our regular contributor Catherine.
All views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Room To Grow.