It was my husband’s birthday and we had family over to celebrate. My kids got into a heated argument and everyone was staring, concerned about the chaos. This was not ideal timing, to say the least, but I sat and talked to both of them until there was a resolution.
It’s taken a while but I no longer try to keep this annoying visitor of crazy feelings away. Because I realize humans need to get their feelings out and learn how to manage them. And it’s my job to help my kids do it in a way that’s healthy. It’s just I wish it could be a 9-5 Monday through Friday kind of job.
But parenting isn’t like that.
From Babies to Kids
We are taught the importance of attaching to our babies. Part of attaching is becoming in sync with them. Responsive parenting means we respond appropriately to babies needs. If they need soothing, we hold and rock them. If they need a diaper change, we change it. And if they are hungry, we feed them.
As babies turn into toddlers, we expect the terrible twos and tantrums. We redirect and help them calm down. But when kids get a bit older — around preschool and school age — they still need help regulating their emotions but it gets more difficult.
That’s because it’s easy to react to upset kids because they are no longer little. This is typically when timeouts or punishments happen. But what kids really need is help to figure out the emotion behind the behavior
Avoidance behaviors start
Difficult emotions often come in a disguised undesirable behavior. It might be flying off the handle about no dessert or freaking out because they can’t find a shoe. Other times it’s blaming or fighting with a sibling.
When I look beyond this behavior, my kids and I can usually figure out the emotion behind it. I don’t know how many times I’ve been late somewhere because of this. But it’s worth its weight in gold when I get to see the relief on their faces.
When kids can’t consistently find healthy ways to process difficult emotions, they unconsciously work to avoid them. It can grow into habits like eating when not hungry, excessive screen time, acting out/crying, excess video games, bullying and staying up late. Sometimes it’s disguised in a pretty package like getting straight A’s, people pleasing, being popular and excelling at sports. The more they try to avoid emotions, the more they need their avoidance activity.
Then all the energy goes into this activity — policing it for parents or kids pushing to do it — instead of addressing the avoided emotion behind it. See this post for an example using technology!
A different way to frame it
I now teach my kids that all emotions are helpful. They are our bodies ways of guiding us to our true selves. As Karen Koenig explains in this podcast episode, when we don’t tune into our emotions, it’s like we are cutting off a very important part of ourselves. When my kids have a feeling they don’t like I often ask: What do you think it’s trying to tell you?
Opening up about emotions also strengthens the parent-child relationship. That’s because when all emotions are allowed and tolerated, kids are more likely to come to their parents for support. Now they have a trusted adult who can help them, instead of getting in trouble or yelled at.
Get some tips on effective communication see episode 10 of The Healthy Family Podcast with Kelly Meier
No doubt, this annoying visitor is inconvenient. But it’s a visitor I have learned to welcome with open arms. Otherwise, it stays even longer in its many disguises. But by letting it say it’s piece, we get rid of it sooner. And before we know it we’re back to enjoying being together as a family.
So difficult feelings, come and stay at our house for long as you want. We’re not afraid to talk to you and find out why you’re visiting. We know you’ll be outta here once we figure it out so thanks for being the messenger.
Help your daughter get in tune with her emotional powers by checking out Maryann’s book: My Body’s Superpower: The Girls’ Guide to Growing Up Healthy During Puberty.