For many of us, facing negative emotions can be a dreadful experience. I would throw a tantrum or lock myself up when my emotions got the best of me. Not surprisingly, a lot of us have had similar responses. And that’s because we were never equipped with the tools to self-soothe when we were upset.
Unhappiness triggers stress, and that affects growth and development in the early years. According to a study by the Centre on the Developing Child of Harvard University, a supportive and positive environment can effectively prevent the toxic stress response children undergo when they struggle to adapt to adverse circumstances. Therefore, as parents are the primary caregivers, a solid parent-child relationship is critical to teach our kids to handle their emotions.
Caregivers need to validate the child’s emotions, instill the ability to communicate their needs clearly and seek help when required. Emotionally arrested children can have difficulty verbalizing intense emotions. Teaching them coping strategies is the best way to empower them to battle a strong upsurge of emotions.
A parenting journey that begins with empathy and compassion, makes the bond stronger. If we wish that our children blossom into beautiful flowers, we’ll need to nurture the bud with unconditional love.
Allow Them To Feel It All
Emotional awareness is vital. Your kids have the right to feel the bad as much as the good. Let them understand negative emotions and show them in practice how to counter those to invite more peace and happiness. As Khaled Hosseini says, “Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors.” Quite aptly so, treat them as responsible individuals, believe that they can handle their uncomfortable feelings with the right tools you offer to them, and they will start imitating. Sooner or later.
Shaming or scolding our children is to teach them that their feelings are wrong. “Your kids require you most of all to love them for who they are, not to spend your whole time trying to correct them”, writes Bill Ayers, an American elementary education theorist. This is undeniably a lesson we need to imbibe in our parenting culture. Being curious about their feelings and negating the urge to school them all the time is an essential practice if we are to raise emotionally stable children who grow up to become less defensive.
The Good Practice
So, how do we help them manage their emotions effectively and speak about the not-so-good feelings sans the fear and embarrassment? Show them your openness to listen. Win their trust by keeping their secrets. Go on an outdoor activity or engage in a hobby they love such as painting, yoga, knitting, dancing, skating, swimming, shooting baskets, etc when the negativity takes over. This can channelize their negative emotions into something positive. Speak about your experiences and reactions to personal challenges. Tell them that it’s just human to make mistakes, but acceptance is key.
Use feeling words so that your child has the vocabulary to communicate when they’re unhappy. When you are feeling low, see it as an opportunity to teach your child about emotions by talking to them about those feelings: “It must have been painful”, “What made you sad yesterday?”, “I was upset about it”. They will be able to identify and name the emotion and start expressing themselves with ease. Meditation can be a powerful tool in handling a crisis. Show them how to apply the tools when they are caught in a similar situation and they’ll eventually learn.
Kindness Breeds Kindness
Contentment stems from practicing the art of gratitude, and that begins with you. The sooner our children understand the value of gratitude, the more empowered they feel to regulate a difficult emotion. Show them the power and the joy of giving. When feeling bad, help them to help others. When they realize the impact their positivity brings in the life of the less fortunate, they can use it as a weapon to counter the downfall of emotion.
Your child’s most influential guide is you, so if you would like to model a kid who does not grow up emotionally stunted, lead by example. As Robert Fulghum rightly said, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” It’s not just a matter of telling them what’s correct or acceptable, but practicing what we preach to our children is the best way forward.
“This Too Shall Pass”
Talk about negative emotions being transient, just like the seasons, the days, and the night. Their feelings will shift — from the bad to the good. Tell them it’s okay to feel jealous, disappointed, disgusted, fearful, ashamed, embarrassed, anxious, angry, or sad. Some days we may deal with a sudden rush of negative feelings, and other days could be as bright as the sun. It isn’t the story that deserves importance but the emotion. Asking them to forget about the pain is suppressing the sentiment, which will later resurge as unresolved trauma. Show them the ways to decipher the uncomfortable feeling and remind them that it will change. It always does.
When children feel safe expressing themselves, they are likely to use the most appropriate emotional regulation technique when encountering complicated feelings. When we validate their struggles, help them identify the cause of the triggers, they view those as manageable and normal. The more attuned we are to our kids, understand their needs and arm them with effective strategies, the more resilient we design our future generation to be.