Seeing your child in emotional distress can be challenging to say the least! You may desperately want to support them and yet feel helpless watching them escalate. No matter how badly you want to help, it can be hard to know how to help. Maybe you see them becoming angry or frustrated, or you notice that their worries are getting in the way of them participating in fun activities. Here are some ways that you can help your child develop coping mechanisms to deal with their strong emotions.
What Is This Terrible Feeling Anyway?
It is not uncommon for children to not know what it is that they are feeling. This can be confusing or even scary for children. Assisting your child in the process of labeling their emotions can help your child experience and work through their various emotions. Initially, they may need help putting a name to how they feel as they work up to labeling their feelings independently. Saying, “I can see that you’re getting angry that you can’t find your favorite action figure,” can help the child pair the uncomfortable experience that they’re having with the emotion of anger. As a child learns to name their feelings, they can express them more readily and independently.
Helping Your Child Feel Heard
It is essential to let your child know that you understand how they are feeling. This does not mean that you always agree or that their emotions will dictate what happens. Simply validating their strong emotions sends the message that you’re trying to understand what they are going through and that you desire to be present with them in their emotion. As a mom myself, I can attest that this is not always as easy as it sounds. Parents often want to help their children by removing or reducing the experience of their child’s uncomfortable feelings. However, validating their emotions sends our children a message that it is alright to feel their full range of emotions. In addition, allowing your child the space to express their feelings may reduce their need to illustrate what they are feeling behaviorally. For example, dismissing your child’s feelings by saying, “there’s no reason to be upset about this,” or trying to change their mind, “come on, this isn’t scary, it’s fun,” can provide further frustration for your child that can result in behavioral outbursts.
When validating your child’s feelings, state the emotion that you hear or see them expressing. Pay attention to their body language for clues. If your child is angry that you have interrupted their playtime to go to the grocery store, you may say, “I understand that you’re angry and want to keep playing with your toys. It can be hard for me to stop what I’m doing and do something else, too.”
Help Your Child Develop Coping Strategies
Having several options for your child to choose from when it comes to coping with strong emotions can be helpful. The strategies that work best may be different for each child and even vary depending on the situation. Proactively learning coping strategies, for example, deep breathing or mindfulness, and practicing them with your child when they are calm, will increase the likelihood that your child will use them when their emotions are dysregulated. If you’re practicing these strategies, too, it will be easier for you to model them when your patience gets tested.