They come at you from left field! Just when you thought that everything was going smoothly, your daughter is in tears or screaming at you about something you can't understand - because she is screaming!
As a parent, it is so hard to know how to react to these feelings. Sometimes, your child can tell you what he is feeling but often, children show their feelings through behaviour instead of vocabulary. Having a plan can definitely give us a parenting advantage.
Model Good Listening
It is easier for all of us to talk about something that is troubling us if we feel that someone is really listening. Often when our children start to tell us how they are feeling we are doing the laundry or making dinner and although we say we are listening, we don't show that we are listening. It's kind of like Stop Drop and Roll - we have to Stop, Look and Close our mouths to listen.
If we can't stop what we are doing, then we need to say, "It sounds like you have something important to tell me, I want to be able to listen carefully. I will be done this chore in 10 minutes and then I can give you my full attention."
When we do listen carefully, it creates a supportive environment that may help our children to find their own solution to the problem. It also teaches our children to stop, look and listen to us when we are telling them something important.
We don't have to fix it - sometimes we can't
We don't want our children to suffer. Because of this, when our children do tell us that they are feeling hurt or sad we often deny their feelings. We say, "Oh, it's not so bad" or "You should be happy". When we tell someone to push away bad feelings, it often leaves that person even more upset.
Instead of fixing the problem, we can help the child to label the feeling and respond with a head nod or a hug. Try not to ask too many questions or to give them advice. At this point they just want to be heard.
I bet you wish you could...
Once the feelings have been labeled, you can respond with "I bet you wish you could". For example, your child is frustrated because everyone else seems to be better at soccer than she is. After acknowledging the feeling and listening, you might say, "I bet you wish you could be the best soccer player in the world. I bet you wish you could score a goal every time you tried. That would be neat." This tends to diffuse the emotion and helps the child to feel understood. One of our clients now says," I am so sad it is raining today. I wanted to go to the park too. Well, I can't control the weather, let's go down stairs and build a tent to play in." Her children know that she understands how they are feeling.
At Parenting Power, we to say, ACT don't YAK. DO NOT go into an elaborate explanation about why. This is not the time for that discussion.
Feelings, YES; Misbehaviour, NO
If our children are expressing their feelings through unacceptable behaviour, then we need to accept the feelings and follow through with an appropriate consequence to stop the behaviour. We might say," Wow, it looks like you are really angry. Hitting is not allowed in our family, you need to spend some time on your own and cool down." We would then remove the child or ourselves (and siblings) from the situation.
Parenting Power helps you in teaching your child different strategies to use when angry, sad or frustrated. Different ideas work for different children and what works may change as your child grows older. With younger children, one of the best ways to teach strategies is to talk with our children about storybook or TV characters who go through these emotions. When we talk about the character, our kids can help to see how the character figured it out and made good choices. It is a way to learn about themselves without feeling threatened.
If strategies are modeled for children when they are very young, they tend to understand that there is something they can do when they are having negative feelings. As they grow, they may start to develop their own strategies. But, it is never too late to teach appropriate ways of communicating and acting on their feelings.
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