One of the questions I’m asked most often is, “How do I help my child when they’re in the grip of <insert strong feeling here>?” Despair, anger, rage, disappointment, anxiety – these are perhaps the most common. First of all – and this really is key – there’s nothing wrong. You may beg to differ, and that’s fine with me, but I invite you to trust me on this. Stuff happens, we interpret this ‘stuff’ through the lens of our past experience (a little like running a computer program in the mind that takes the event as input and spits out emotions as the output) and strong emotions may result. As I said, nothing wrong – this is how we’re designed to operate.
- Model for your child an acceptance of whatever feeling is here. A denial of, or resistance to, whatever is here just makes it stronger – what we resist not only persists but grows stronger.
- Logic is not helpful in this situation. Telling your child that their response is not proportionate to the event or logical will not result in an ‘aha’ moment for the child, when they suddenly see that their reaction doesn’t make logical sense. Emotions are not logical. When we’re in the grip of an emotion, the logical part of the brain is not in charge. Rather than resisting the child’s illogical outburst, empathize with the child if you can, and see if you can help them to name any emotions that are passing through them in that moment. Naming the emotion helps the body to process it.
- Breathe. Feel your feet on the ground. Perhaps invite your child to do the same. It’s difficult for the child to experience strong feelings (and difficult for you too) so take a moment to be kind to yourselves!
My youngest (aged 6) was having trouble sleeping the other night and came out of bed to tell me that he was missing his daddy a lot. Tears stung his eyes as he told me that he had a sad feeling in his eyes, his throat and his tummy. We cuddled for a bit and talked about how difficult it is to feel lots of sadness when we miss someone. When he was a little more settled, I asked him if he could be kind to himself because he was experiencing something difficult. He nodded, placed his cuddly blanket around his throat, and headed back to bed.
I talk much more about dealing with strong emotions much more in my forthcoming book, ‘Awakening Child: a journey of inner transformation through teaching your child mindfulness’ and set out my BE.LOVE method for dealing with difficult moments. Come and join us in the Facebook group ‘Awakening Child’.