I’ve been thinking a lot about the emotional storms that descend upon our children, creating upheaval and chaos for everyone in the family.
Their upsets can seem so illogical. “I HAVE TO HAVE THE BLUE CUP!” or “MATH IS STUPID STUPID STUPID AND I’M QUITTING SCHOOL!”
It’s not easy to stay calm when our child threatens to wreak havoc upon the family. More often than not, we resort to the same reactions our own parents probably used with us: “The red cup is just as good as the blue one!” or “If you’d just calm down and take the problem step by step, you’d find out how fun math can be!”
Matches to gasoline–that’s what it’s like when we try to talk our children out of their upset. When they’re flooded with overwhelming feelings like anger or frustration, the part of their brain that processes rational thought is offline. Our efforts to explain, justify, rationalize, or cheer them up only emphasize how alone they are in the sea of their emotions.
Why do we do it? Because when our child is in the middle of a storm, we feel overwhelmed, or judged by those observing us. Sometimes, our child’s outbursts also trigger a sense of insecurity, underscoring a quiet fear that we aren’t doing parenting “right.” We NEED them to settle down so that WE can feel competent.
Uh oh. Needing our children to be or do anything is pretty much always a bad idea. Intuitively, our kids know that we are supposed to be what I call the Captain of the ship, capable of navigating the ship of our their lives through calm and stormy seas.
When we anxiously try to force them to stop crying, or we tell them their whining is driving us crazy, we’ve effectively alerted them to the idea that we are a Captain who cannot cope with storms.
Passengers want captains who don’t jump ship when the seas get rough, right! Similarly, our children want and need to know that we are able to help them through the stormy seas of their lives.
It isn’t easy to help our children through the big feelings that often possess them, but it is possible. Last summer, I teamed up with the wonderful Janet Lansbury from Elevating Childcare to offer a 75 minute class on this topic. Janet is a wonderful resource for parents and we had a great time sharing tips and guidance for those times when our children (or we!) are emotionally flooded.
Children who grow up learning that big, messy emotions are normal aren’t afraid of feeling what they feel. They become confident, resilient adults who are capable of working through difficult emotions rather than using food, alcohol, or other distractions when faced with frustration, fear, or disappointment.
As I reflect on the adult clients I see in my psychotherapy office, I think that the ones who struggled the most with relationships, career, or life in general were the ones who were taught to ignore, repress, minimize, or dismiss their feelings when they were children.
We have a golden opportunity while our kids are young to help them become comfortable with difficult emotions. And in the process, we ourselves get to do some deep healing, learning that while big feelings can seem overwhelming, we come equipped with everything we need to weather emotional storms.
Don’t be afraid of your child’s big feelings. They are a normal way of announcing, something isn’t working for me right now or I’m uncomfortable or simply, HELP! When we learn to make it okay for children to ride the storm, we give them a gift for life.
There’s lots (and lots and lots!) more on this topic in the Master Class Janet and I offered, and we’ll be taking questions in our upcoming Q & A. If you need help, join us!
For information on last summer’s Master Class on Whining, Crying, Meltdowns, Aggression, and Tantrums, visit this page.
To join Janet and Susan’ Question and Answer session, visit this page.