- How we, as parents manage and regulate our own emotions probably, is the biggest factor in how our children cope with their own emotions.
- The more attuned we can be to our own emotional experience, the better we can support our children.
- This includes getting to know our triggers in our kids that may draw up issues in ourselves that need more processing or even exploring with a mental health professional.
- When our child is upset, do we find ourselves getting anxious and potentially sending a message to our kids that we and they can’t handle their feelings? We want to be mindful to not be too reactive (where our emotions crowd theirs out), but also not distant and guarded (where we’re inaccessible).
- Just becoming more aware of these reactions can make a huge difference in your ability to be present with your child and support them.
- At a time when you're calm, questions like this can help: 'what thoughts go through my head when I see my child struggling? 'what do I feel when my child is upset? 'what did I learn from my own upbringing about feelings that may be interfering with my present, chosen values as a parent?'
- I have a feelings list on my Website that can help with this. Or just google feelings list and you'll likely find some lists that will help expand your emotional vocabulary.
Our kids’ emotions
- How our children feel about themselves is the biggest determinant of their behavior
- If children feel good about themselves, they’ll behave in ways that support and enhance that view of themselves
- So how do we help them feel good about themselves? A good start is to help them be in touch with their feelings
- And how do we do that? By helping them name and accept their feelings.
- When you see a child distressed about something that happened during the day, instead of trying to reassure them with things like 'it's ok, nothing to worry about', try instead just to say what you see on their face or what you hear in their voice. A simple statement like, 'I can see that made you pretty upset' or 'you feel frustrated with that assignment'. Putting words to their emotional experience, acknowledging it by naming it, helps your child feel understood by you. And when they feel this, they can begin to self-soothe and figure out solutions to the problem they’re facing.
- To see a vivid example of the power of parental responsiveness to emotions, check out the 3-minute video of the Still Face experiment. It's with a baby, but the principles at play extend throughout childhood and into adulthood. The subtleties of emotional response profoundly affect how well a child is able to self-regulate and solve problems for themselves.
- So to summarize, start with being more aware of your own emotions and what things in your kids might trigger you. And as you do that, just tuning into your kids' emotional experience by saying what you see and reflecting that back to them. This helps your children feel understood and seen by you, which helps them feel better.
Brent Sweitzer, LPC, RPT specializes in helping distant couples reconnect and in helping children play their way through difficult emotions through play therapy. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Play Therapist, which means he has received special training and supervision in using the medium of play to work with children of all ages. He is also extensively trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, a well-researched approach that helps couples overcome longstanding conflicts in order to feel closer and communicate better. He runs his own private practice, Sweitzer Counseling, that serves the communities of Cumming, Johns Creek, Alpharetta, and the surrounding communities in Atlanta, GA. He is married and has two young children of his own. When he's not connecting with clients or his family, he's often exploring the great outdoors or strumming his guitar.