Learning Together Appropriate Responses to those BIG Emotions. Understanding and identifying emotions is hard for kiddos and, dare I say it, adults.  As adults we want to think we have it all together. And I’m here to say NOPE. We can do our very best, but we’re always learning, messing up, and moving forward.  This is the same for kiddos. 

Emotions are a universal experience for humans.  While only 6 of our emotions are cross-continental according to research {disgust, sadness, happiness, fear, anger, and surprise} we have thousands of words we use to express how we are feeling.  Some days, our feelings feel unnameable. And that’s okay. We’re allowed to have both the comfortable and uncomfortable feelings. The important aspect is how we deal with and allow our emotions to control our actions.  We often learn from our environments as children how to identify, deal with and handle our emotions. And it’s never too late to learn how to react in an appropriate manner to some of our BIG emotions. And, it’s important to help our kiddos navigate through both their BIG and small emotions at a young age.  When we learn young, we have more time to form this habit and make it part of our routine.  As adults and parents we have to power to help our kiddos learn how to respond to BIG emotions and how to problem solve ways to respond next time.  Often times, if children don’t know how to handle their BIG emotions, they won’t handle – they will react. 

We see this so often, in adults and kids, maybe without even realizing it.  Yelling? We feel angry and/or unheard and/or misunderstood. Ignoring? Angry and/or unheard and/or misunderstood. Hitting? Angry and/or sad and/or misunderstood. Mean words? Angry and/or sad and/or defensive and/or misunderstood.  Are we seeing a trend yet? Our BIG emotions often come out in BIG ways. We often call kiddos BIG emotions “tantrums” when they are unverbalized. Our behaviors and actions so often reflect our thoughts and emotions – whether spoken or unspoken.  

Anger and sadness and feeling misunderstood are not always the reasons behind our yelling or ignoring or hitting or mean words – but they are very often the reactions to those emotions when they feel HUGE.  What would a world be like if we learned to express our BIG and small emotions in healthy ways at a young age? {Fun fact: It’s not too late for adults either} And this is the PERFECT opportunity to model this behavior for your children – no matter what age.

Modeling the verbalization of how you are feeling, how you respond, and how you calm down to your big emotions will help your children learn appropriate ways to respond to their difficult and overwhelming emotions. 

This may seem like a daunting task -because it does require vulnerability – AND it is absolutely attainable.  What exactly are some baby steps toward modeling this behavior, you ask? Great Question! 

Verbalize and Name YOUR emotions.  When YOU are experiencing big and uncomfortable emotions, this is the PERFECT opportunity to share.  It is so easy to hide these big and uncomfortable feelings, but letting your kids know that you too have these uncomfortable feelings normalizes them experiencing similar feelings at a later time.  When you name your emotions and verbally share what triggered those feelings and how you calmed down, this shows them it is possible to get angry without hitting or yelling. If you’re feeling sad – let them know what made you feel sad! Let them know, crying is okay when you’re sad {there is actually believed to be a neurochemical dump in our brain when we’re stressed, which is believed to be one of the reasons behind our crying when we’re sad}.  If there is a sad event, cry together. Sit in that emotion together. There is strength in allowing ourselves to experience our emotions. If you’re feeling angry, remind them anger is okay too – it’s the negative actions in how we react to our BIG feelings that has taught us that it is not okay to feel angry. Instead – identify what made you feel angry, and what you are actively doing to calm down your body. It is equally important to identify your comfortable emotions and how you respond to those as well!  “I am feeling happy and loved right now as we are spending time together” “ I felt so loved when you thought of me in the middle of your day, and texted me a kiss emoji today”

Take Responsibility for YOUR emotions.  There are going to be times where you don’t respond to a BIG emotion in an appropriate way, and {I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again}  THAT IS OKAY and completely normal. HOWEVER, it is so important to take responsibility for your reactions. When we get angry, and “yell” or “lose it” – it is not because of your kids or your spouse – it is because of you.  YOU control your reactions to your BIG emotions {I know that can be a big and humbling pill to swallow – it was for me} Triggers may create BIG emotions in your body, and you control how you react to those BIG emotions. You yelling when you’re angry communicates that it is okay to yell when they are angry.   We expect our kids, our spouse, our partners, even strangers, to take responsibility for their actions – and we are no different. If you do “lose it” or your behavior does not match the way you would like your child or partner to respond in a similar situation, take responsibility.  Model apology and asking for forgiveness. Model how you responded was not okay, and show them how you are making an effort to change how you respond to your big emotions next time. {Taking responsibility ALSO helps to build repair after a rupture}. This does not take away from the actions or consequences to actions – instead, it gives you the opportunity to show them its never too late to make a change. This helps kids to both learn how to change their behavior and, in turn, to learn they cannot blame others for their reactions to difficult situations and emotions.

Help your child name THEIR emotions. When your child is yelling, you can let them know that their elevated voice leads you to believe they are experiencing anger right now.  OR their behavior looks like they are feeling angry right now. And give them control to confirm if their yelling is in fact because they are angry, or to identify a more accurate word to describe how they are feeling. While reminding them that you cannot understand them when they are yelling, being physical, or throwing things, but that you would really like to listen, talk, and understand when they have a calm voice and calm body. Or that you are willing to sit with them in their anger, even without the “talking” – if they are able to have a safe body.  

Validate THEIR emotions.  There will be times when your child is upset because they are not getting what they want.  Let them know you hear them, that their emotions are valid, and that they still have to follow the rules and your decisions. For example, you said no to dessert because it was too late.  Your child’s emotions of being upset are totally valid! Let them know, “I hear that you are upset because we cannot have dessert tonight, I would be upset upset too! Dessert is so yummy. And we still have to follow the decision” Ask if they would like to know “why” you have made that decision.  You can even add in that you can plan for dessert tomorrow, if they are able to work through their emotions appropriately tonight. And giving them a clear definition of what that would in fact look like.  

We’re constantly learning – learning our environments, learning new skills, learning ourselves.  And here is yet another learning opportunity for growth. We cannot change how we have reacted in the past, and we have new opportunities every day to move forward and utilize the new skills we have gained along our journey.  Keep learning- keep growing – and as always, you’re rocking it. Until next time.

*The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).

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