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Managing strong feelings at the best of times can be challenging. Our children take their lead from us. When we are chaotic, so are they. When we are in the grip of strong feelings such as anger and sadness, they watch and learn (whether this is positive or negative) how to react and behave. When we are calm and rational, they are more likely to model this too, and if not, at least we are in a better place to help them with their strong feelings.
We want to be able to coach them through these strong feelings and teach them how to manage them well. However, that means we ourselves need to have a sense of how to do this so that we can help our children find calm. Sometimes, even if we do know what to say and do, our own strong reactions to them can interfere with a rational and helpful response.
What to do with strong feelings first?
Here are some tips to initial responses you can try:
- Allow them to express themselves (without hurting anyone), for a minute or two. This might be verbal or non-verbal expression;
- Reflect back to them what you think they might be feeling …“you seem pretty angry”, “do you feel frustrated?”, “are you sad?”. Often merely acknowledging their feelings will help diminish their intensity. When children feel seen and heard, they tend to calm naturally;
- However, when their feelings are very big and strong, we may need to let them express it further, but help them to do this more appropriately. For example “do you need to stomp out your anger?” (and stomp with them), “why don’t you hit this cushion with all of your anger?” (and stay close by), “it’s ok to scream loudly, but do it into the air or a pillow…not my face”.
How to help children calm down
Any break in this expression of feeling is the time to jump in with calming strategies:
- encourage little ones to breathe, and in particular to blow out a big breath, just like blowing out lots of candles;
- explain to pre-teens and teens that we need to expel the build-up of carbon dioxide that makes us feel sick and dizzy;
- encourage them to move around, to shift the adrenalin that has built up;
- connect with little ones again, by holding their hands and looking into their eyes, affirming to them that they are safe and not in trouble for having big strong feelings. If there was a trigger event of a conflict, address this afterwards, but not right now. Wait about 10 minutes before talking about it when you are both calm;
- connect with teens by a touch, a text, or gesture of making them something to eat or drink. Give them the option of talking to you, if not straight away, then perhaps in the car on your next trip. If conflict needs to be addressed, deliver the pre-agreed upon consequence without negotiation or emotion.
What if strong feelings are becoming a problem?
If you are unsure, our experienced psychologists can be your coach. They will then be able to show you how to model becoming calm for your children to see and encourage how to teach your children with similar strategies.
We all know that parenting is not an easy journey and that many of us experience stress and anxiety or even guilt at times. If this is the case, and you are overwhelmed with your own strong feelings, we have a clinic at the CWBC designed specifically to address parenting stress and anxiety.
During these challenging times, the Centre remains open and can offer in-person sessions or online meetings.
Please contact Reception for further information.