Children are notorious triggers for us as parents. We can be calm, patient and level headed at work or with friends but when our child is escalating we often mirror this accidentally. This is evolutionary, it is because our child’s distress creates distress in our own brain. The harder it is for us to be calm as parents, the harder it is to help calm and soothe our children when they are emotional.
The good news is, there are some simple tips and strategies that are very effective in helping respond to your children’s emotions in a way that helps them learn to calm themselves down rather than wind themselves up when they are distressed.This process includes responding to our children’s emotions by assisting them to notice their feelings, self-soothe, and then choose a behaviour that meets their needs when they are calm.
Note to parents: this is not a quick fix, but a quick and easy to implement techniques that when used consistently over time (weeks/months/years) builds and creates neural-networks in the brain that are linked to self-management and emotion management. Teaching skills is not only beneficial for your child but it also strengthens and supports building your relationship with your child. There is nothing more powerful than connecting to and attuning to our children when they are in the midst of emotions.
When your child is caught up in an emotion, their fight or flight system is activated and it is impossible for them to rationalise or problem-solve until they are calm. This means that sometimes it is more important to allow your child to take a pause and calm down before speaking to them or disciplining them. The way in which we help soothe this neural response is by listening, validating and attuning to the emotion in our child.
Quick tips to manage big emotions in your child:
1. Be aware of your own feelings, as well as your child’s
2. Help your child take a breath and do a self-soothing activity
3. Once your child is calm, address their emotion first. Notice what you see in their BODY and what you might imagine they are feeling. Be CURIOUS, for example: “Hmm.. that looked like a really BIG feeling. I wonder if it was a sadness.. hmm I am not so sure, what do you think?”
4. Allow them to confirm or give an alternative. Encourage them to be curious about their emotions. “What does the emotion look like? Where do you feel it?”
5. After space has been given and they are calm, address their NEED and behaviour. “When you yell, it’s hard for mummy or daddy to know what you need.. what are some other ways you could tell me what you want?”
6. Set limits while helping your child problem-solve. Reiterate that all feelings are ok but certain behaviours are not. For example, “I can see how angry you are with your sister. It’s OK to be angry but it’s not OK to hit.”