Communicating With Our Children’s BIG Feelings
As parents, one of the hardest aspects of parenting is managing our children’s emotions and feelings, especially when they are explosive.
As adults, we expect other adults to have it together…
Otherwise, well, we’re quick to throw in some labels “dramatic”, “crazy”, “extra”…
For most of us, we really do our best with how we’ve been brought up, what we’ve been told about our emotions, our personality traits, our mental health and most importantly our abilities to regulate. Regulation is taught at an early age and an unregulated adult will have trouble communicating.
Many of us don’t think about how “everything started” or where it stems from. We judge adults too easily and yet, we expect children to act like one. It doesn’t make sense and that’s where our young ones are falling short at understanding themselves.
Here are a few tips on where you start communicating with your child’s BIG feelings.
Name The Feelings
Children are not born knowing that this storm of emotions released by the brain has a name for it which is defined by feelings, and a feeling is the conscious experience of that emotion.
Keyword: Conscious. That’s where we as parents come in: We explain and teach what is Anger, sadness, worry, confusion etc… We give them tools to recognize their feelings, understand them and handle them.
If we as adults are unregulated, it is a clue that perhaps you were censored and misguided through your feelings as a child. There are many many factors for that but what I’ve always believed in parenting is that whichever triggers you, is a great place to start your own healing that you deeply deserve while giving yourself a lot of love.
While You Name The Feelings, Allow Them
While you may be naming the feelings, you also have to allow them. There’s a bit of old thinking that feelings “are wrong” and “weak.” Especially if you look into the history of how men were brought up, it is quite saddening how emotions were suppressed for their gender.
For our generation to come we have to teach our children that feelings are natural, safe and okay because it is okay to be angry! It is okay to be sad! It is okay to be scared! but eventually, we have to find our way back to our source, we have to find strategies to allow these feelings to be expressed and released in a healthy way.
Tools to Maintain Regulation
As much as teaching regulation and communication “on the spot” is necessary, it’s also equally important to find what works within your family to maintain it. Little healthy habits, rituals go a long way.
For us, Oliver sees Kyle meditate every morning, he practices yoga at school and knows the concept of it being calming and something to “quiet the busy mind.” We practice mediation and our own regulation through interruptions when he’s around, he obviously doesn’t sit through a whole meditation but being exposed to us or Kyle doing it without fail is a teaching moment. Observing us going in and out very calmly of the meditative state through his interactions teaches him skills.
Power of the Breath
Oliver has seen me have panic attacks, especially through grief, it’s not easy to be around your child and a part of me would rather shield him from that but at the same time, he’s seen me regulate my emotions through breath. He would hear Kyle say “deep breath.” which the three of us would start doing. He understood very quickly how the breath is calming when emotions hit.
It’s become very useful when his asthma hits or when he gets very sad. I’ve also experienced Oliver walk me through tears or morning sickness by telling me “Mom, deep breaths” and he’d breathe with me. It’s quite magical to be honest. We can’t pretend that feelings don’t get the best of us sometimes and seeing your child understanding that while getting through it, is powerful!
Hugs are so powerful, hugging is vital for us humans and it’s very, very regulating. Teaching our kids the benefits of hugging makes them realize that it’s a tool if they need it. I actually really recommend this book, “The Hug Who Got Stuck” and they have other books that are just wonderful for conscious parenting.
The world of play and imagination is a vital part of children’s development, sometimes it’s not possible to always play with them and that’s okay.
Guiding them to learn to self-play is essential and playing with them and being fully present is also essential. You’re better off dedicating 15 minutes of full-loving present play with them where a connection is being made than 2 hours of non-present play. For some of us, and myself included, it’s really hard to completely be present in imaginative play and I use that learning about myself to search what I need to work on more; I think the feeling of letting go, my thoughts running of what needs to be done etc often takes place in those moments and it’s my responsibility to bring myself to the now, the present moment.
It’s actually in some way a meditative exercise. On the other hand, I love doing workbooks with him, which he is finally giving the time and day on. I recognize my full immersion and presence in it and how calming it is for me. Basically, we all have areas of our lives where we lack concentration and parenting makes us re-center while teaching skills.
Create a ritual maybe during “quiet time”, before bed or whenever you are routinely slowing things down. While you have that ritual set up, introducing calm audio like meditation for kids is great, especially if it can become a tool to bring calmness when needed. We love the Calm App for their kids selection and Oliver’s favorite is the panda from “stillwater” by Jame Sie.
Help Them Express Themselves! Ask Questions and Be Present
When your child is on an explosive emotional roller coaster, guiding them through questions is super helpful and you’d sometimes be very surprised by the blockages they are running into.
Here are examples of conversations between Oliver and me, or Kyle:
Oliver acts out, hits and screams.
Name the feeling: “You’re very angry.”
Name your boundary: “I can’t let you hit me.”
Offer an ear to listen: “Can you tell me what made you angry?”
Wait for a response from the child.
Oliver: “I’m angry because I was playing and I don’t want to take a bath.”
Explain what you heard and ask about the interaction: “Oh I see, you don’t want to take a bath right now and you screamed and hit me. Do you think that was okay to do that?”
Offer perspective: “Do you think hitting me made you even angrier because you know it’s wrong and you’re having a hard time using your words?”
Oliver: “Yes it was not good.”
Offer a reason for the emotion: “Maybe the transition was hard for you, you didn’t want to stop playing. Would two more minutes help and we can go take a bath?”
Ask for an apology: “Ok great, but can you please say ‘Sorry’ for hitting me?”
Offer a reasoning: “Well hitting doesn’t make me feel good, why are you having a hard time saying sorry? You know I love you very much and I’m just trying to help you.”
Oliver: “Yes, I don’t want to say sorry!“
Offer an alternative: “Oh okay, do you want to say something else like “I apologize”?“
Oliver: “Yes! That’s better, I apologize mommy.”
Give positive reinforcement: “Thank you so much, I love you very much and next time no hitting, it’s okay to be angry and use our words and I’m here to make help you feel better.”
When a feeling comes up, giving choices is super helpful to guide them. While we can ask questions we can also give them options.
Here are examples:
Feelings of Worry
You are worried. Do you want to try to hug? Snuggle your stuffed animal? Talk about it? Listen to music or draw?
Feelings of Fear
You are scared. Do you want me to hold your hand? Sit on my lap? Turn on the light? Take deep breaths? Snuggle your stuffed animal?
Feelings of Frustration
You are frustrated. Do you need my help? Would you like to find a solution with me? Do you need space? Do you want to get fresh air?
Give Positive Reinforcement
On a daily basis, giving them positive reinforcement is showing them that you are not just pointing out things that they do “wrong”. Some of the smallest things need cheering and validation for them to keep repeating the good behavior.
Hold Boundaries and Fairness Without Using Fear Tactics
Hold boundaries within the fairness of your communication, they also have to learn what limits are and why they are there. It is important to remember that punishing without explanation is not offering them to integrate good habits. Eventually, they are not learning about the connections of what caused the bad behavior to be judged as bad.
Do your best to be consistent! If one day you’re going to be calm about a certain behavior but next time you lose it; it confuses them. I mean in the real world that we live in, we all have our bad days… As they do too! but consistency is better than very inconsistent responses on our part.
Reassure Them of Your Love
Sometimes they just need reassurance and a lot of love and soothing, there’s no spoiling in the language of love. We as adults can either admit or be in denial that it’s one of our biggest needs. We need love and self love at any age. Teaching kindness for others, compassion, empathy and self love helps navigate them to treat others and you!
Thanks For Reading!
These nine tips are just a glimpse into how I communicate with my toddler, Oliver. There are many styles of communication, practising emotions, and conscious parenting. I’d love to hear what works for you in the comments below!
Read my blog: 4 Must Reads for Gentle Parenting to see my top resources that include communicating with a toddler, learning the basics of sleep training, and all of the basics!