Little People, Big Emotions

Summer can be super fun time for some kids, but for others, it can mean a loss of structure and routine and therefore control.

I see this playing out moment to moment with my daughter. Everyday she wants to know exactly what we’re doing and when, and when the schedule doesn’t fall into place as planned, she becomes a screaming ball of anger. She doesn’t want to go to camp, she wants to be picked up from camp at exactly at 11:52, she wants ham for lunch, no – meatballs, and then I make her meatballs and she starts sobbing that she wanted grilled cheese. If we say we’re going to the park, she says no, then when I ask her what she wants to do, she says has no idea, and then starts sobbing again.

My original tactic for avoiding these breakdowns was to not tell her what we were doing until the last minute, or the night before.

This has backfired MAJORLY. I had planned a follow up appointment for her surgery, and when she finally found the night before, she was a mess. The fear and anger that arose in her was shocking! I was so not prepared for a meltdown, since it was just a simple check up, so I knew I needed to change my technique.
So, I started discussing our plans with her in advance.

This wasn’t much better. For example, this week, she was scheduled to have a play date with her friend, so my mom proposed taking my nephew who was visiting and my son to the movies while that was happening. My daughter was super excited about this play date as she hadn’t seen this friend since the end of school. Well, as soon as I told her about the boys going to the movies, she broke down in sobs, yelling that they weren’t allowed to go, and it wasn’t fair. Well, long story short, the boys went to Legoland instead, on my daughter’s suggestion, and when they came back with Legos, she realized she didn’t get to buy something, well, you can guess the reaction.

Nothing was appeasing her, no matter what I did.

Just this morning, my mom had a museum planned for the kids, and they were super excited that they wouldn’t be going to camp. But of course, as I buckled my daughter into the car, I noticed she had a scowl on her face. Shocked, I asked her what was wrong. She said she wanted me to come along with them, which I told her I was unable to do because the baby was sleeping at home. I tried to reassure her that I would see her soon, and I watched the scowl grow bigger and bigger as I kissed her goodbye.

I knew I needed to find some new ways to deal with these emotions, so I decided to try some techniques I learned from life coaching to help her move through them. I noticed a few things that I did to handle her behavior in these situations just simply did not work, and few things I did that worked beautifully. I will share what worked for me here today in case you are dealing with some big emotions too!

What NOT to do when your child is emotional:

  • Don’t say “Stop crying” or “Don’t cry” or “Stop being like this!”
    This creates a sense of invalidation, and your child may feel that you are saying they are not allowed to feel the way they feel. Then, they may even get anxiety over feeling worried or feel guilty for feeling bad.
  • Don’t punish or reprimand during the meltdown.
    Banning them to their rooms or giving them a time out for just being emotional teaches your child to push the feeling down and not process it.
  • Don’t say “It’s going to be fine. Trust me.”
    Right now, your child isn’t acting from the logical part of the brain they can’t process this reassurance, and they feel very strongly that it’s not going to be fine.

I heard myself tell my daughter when she wanted me to come to the museum with them, “It’ll be fine, you’ll be home with me before you know it.” I know, it’s so hard not to say things like that!

What TO SAY when you child is emotional:

  • “I see that you’re feeling sad (insert other emotion) and that’s ok.”
    Labeling their emotions help them to feel validated and can even help to calm them a bit.
  • “I am here to help.” or “I am here for you.”
    Even if they don’t know how you can help them, just being present is comforting.
  • “I love you no matter what and you are safe.”
    This can calm the flight or fight response in the brain that happens with strong emotion. If they are willing to let you, giving them hugs or any light touch is a good way to calm the nervous system too.
  • “I can see this is hard for you.”
    This again is acknowledging that their feelings are valid.
  • “I can see that your upset, but I don’t understand what’s wrong. Can you help me understand?”
    We need to ask what they need before we start offering solutions because they might not be ready for them yet.
  • “Let’s take a break.”
    If something is frustrating them, taking a break for a bit might help them calm down or removing them from the overwhelming situation is good idea.

I noticed that when my daughter was struggling with anxiety over the doctor’s appointment, I helped her label her emotion, worry, by saying, “It seems like you’re worried about going to the doctor. It’s ok to worry.” I let her cry while I held her, and reinforced that it was ok to worry, and I said “I know you feel bad right now. How can I help?” She wanted to talk about what was going to happen at the appointment so we did that for a while, and she seemed to really calm down. Then I told her I loved her no matter what she did or how she behaved and I hugged her until she calmed down. This worked amazingly well.

Not only did she feel better, but she started smiling and laughing a few minutes later and told me she loved me over and over while she kissed my face. So sweet!

These tactics usually work wonders for my kids,

With one catch…

Most of the time for these lines to work, I have to be in a calm and peaceful place mentally and emotionally to use them and to use them effectively. That’s when my tools from coaching come into play, and I have to utilize thoughts that support these tactics to help me to stay calm and connected to my child and not be caught up in my own drama around her behavior.

Thoughts to use when your child is emotional (some of these are review from an older post):

  • Nothing has gone wrong here.
  • My child can handle hard things.
  • It’s normal to feel negative emotion 50% of our lives.
  • I am here to guide, help, and teach my child how to deal with emotion.
  • My child is learning how to process emotions and that’s ok.
  • My child is experiencing exactly what they are supposed to right now.
  • All of this is part of his/her (or my) perfect journey.
  • I’m not supposed to talk him/her into feeling happy.
  • My only job is to love them and offer help, and hold them accountable.
  • Holding the space is sometimes all he/she needs.
  • My child is supposed to feel negative emotion. It will help him/her in the end.
  • We are in the process of figuring it out.
  • I can always choose love in every situation.

If you want to teach your child how to handle negative emotion while learning how to be the best and most effective parent you can be, I can help.
I can’t tell you the difference that working with a life coach has made in my parenting and in my life in general. It’s a game changer!

Bonus! Get my Free Guide for Parents: How to Keep your Cool and Connect with your Kids! (with a FREE printable)

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