Simply put, kids are awesome. They’re hilarious without understanding why, they’re unpredictable in the best way, and they’re wildly carefree and innocent in a way that we adults can only dream about. But with these big “good feelings”, comes big “hard to manage” feelings too. Just like us, kids can feel stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, and angry, but unlike us, kids don’t quite have it in their wheelhouse to communicate how they’re feeling and why they’re having a full-on breakdown in the Starbucks line. After all, kids are just tiny humans figuring the world out a day at a time. As a parent, you may feel a little overwhelmed yourself as you try to help your kiddos navigate feelings that you yourself even struggle with sometimes, and we’re here to say that’s okay. We’ve got a few tips and tricks that may help you and your tiny humans navigate this world of big emotions. Let’s get started!
Talk About Emotions
We can’t talk about something unless we know a little bit about it, right? Right. So take the opportunity to talk about emotions and what those look and feel like whenever the opportunity presents itself. A great way to teach and talk about emotions is with visuals such as books or flashcards with clear illustrations of what it looks like to be sad, mad, or surprised. From here, you can start to point out what characters in TV shows and movies seem to be feeling, then graduate to asking your little one what they think a character is feeling. Kiddos catch on quick, and soon you’ll be surprised about the number of feelings they can already recognize and talk about.
Understand Triggers and How to Cope
This is a big step that can be frustrating for kids and parents alike. As a parent, you’ll start to notice what triggers your child, and this will be your opportunity to allow feelings, but stop behaviors. We’ll set the scene for you: you’re playing at the park, and just as your little one starts to go down the slide, out of nowhere, another kiddo comes along, pushes his or her way the slide, and gets situated to go down first, obviously not waiting their turn. You see it in your kiddo’s face, they’re not having this, they’re mad and you see that sweet, chubby hand raise and you know what’s coming. Being mad is the feeling, and hitting is the behavior. Mad is acceptable, hitting is not. This is a great opportunity to express that: “it’s okay to be mad, but it is never okay to hit a friend. We’re going to sit and take some deep breaths together, then we can go back to playing. We will calm down first, then we get to play!”
Validate, Validate, Validate
Do you get mad? Do you get sad? Do you get overwhelmed? Of course you do because these are totally normal human feelings! Just make sure that as you’re teaching your kiddos about emotions, you validate theirs as you go. Minimizing their feelings will make them feel like they can’t have any, simply understanding is better but can come across as a little harsh at times especially if big emotions are happening, but validation is a sweet spot. So instead of saying “stop crying, you’re fine” or “I know you’re sad we can’t see Grandma today” instead opt for “I know you’re sad we can’t see Grandma today, I get sad when I don’t get to do the things I want to do too.”
Don’t Reward Bad Behavior
This can be the tricky part, but we’re here to help. Here are a few things to avoid when it’s a big emotion day and meltdowns are ever-present: rewards for calming down, too much attention, telling your kiddo to stop crying, and making excuses for your kiddo. All of these reactions encourage more behaviors when what you want to encourage is emotional regulation. Emotional regulation can be achieved by deep breathing, counting to calm down, or even taking a break.
This can be a tough road for parents, so never hesitate to reach out to teachers, other parents, or even friends online for tips, tricks, and advice because you aren’t in this alone.