Kids can be exhausting at all ages but we’re finding it especially challenging as they start to navigate the wildly bumpy emotions of being a pre-teen/teenager. Good news! We have a few tips to help you help your child better manage their emotions at any age. (P.S. This Life Line is helpful for us to deal with our own emotions too…)
Professor John Gottman is an expert on relationships and has done extensive research on parenting. In his studies, he discovered a few key things parents can do to help their children better deal with their emotions. If we can help our kids learn to recognize and deal with their feelings in a positive way, we will have taught them a skill that will serve them very well for the rest of their lives.
Tip 1: Tune in.
Be in tune with your child’s emotions, not just the resulting behavior (a key here is being aware of your own emotions as well!). If you can stay ahead of the behavior and start to see the warning signs, you can potentially prevent an outburst. Per Gottman, “Emotional awareness simply means that you recognize when you are feeling an emotion, you can identify your feelings and you are sensitive to the presence of emotions in other people.” Help role model how to tune into and regulate your feelings for your kids,; don’t shield them from yours or their big emotions.
Tip 2: REALLY listen
As hard as it may be, try to actively listen to your child before jumping in to fix things. Do your best to establish yourself as a safe haven for them to express their emotions and start to learn how to deal with some of the discomfort. Let them talk. Help them express themselves and validate that they are having their feelings. In this moment, you need to focus on just hearing your child. Put yourself in their shoes.
Tip 3: Connect.
Use your child’s emotional outburst as an opportunity to bond with your child in a positive way. (Yes, this is possible!) Turn these times into teaching moments by acknowledging your kid’s feelings and making any lessons about their actions not about their identity i.e. “We don’t throw food” (action based) versus “Why are you such a brat” (identity based).
Tip 4: Label feelings.
Help your kids learn the vocabulary to express how they are feeling. If you can help your kids put words to this ‘amorphous, scary, uncomfortable feeling’ and turn it into something that can be defined and is a normal part of life, it gives them a tool to start to process. Simple statements like “You feel angry, don’t you?’ helps them feel understood and provides the words to describe their emotions moving forward.
Tip 5: Set limits.
All emotions are acceptable as none of us really have control over what we feel but we learn that not all behavior based on these emotions is acceptable. Your children need to understand the difference between the two and clearly understand the boundaries for appropriate behavior.
Tip 6: Help problem solve
Now is not the time for you to solve your child’s problem but it is the time to help them brainstorm solutions and ideas on action they can take. Be patient and help them find solutions that are in line with your family values. This one takes practices so keep at it!
A few things to try to avoid:
- Try not to ignore or trivialize your child’s emotions.
- Don’t punish your kids for expressing their emotions.
- Not setting guidance or limits on bad behavior
These tips can be HARD to follow during the heat of the moment but Gottman found that you don’t have to address things immediately. The important part is to help your kids understand their emotions and how to handle those strong feelings when they arise.
By acknowledging your kid’s feelings, helping direct them through their emotions and helping them problem solve, we set them up with a strong foundation for the rest of their lives (and give ourselves a parenting boost as well!)