Has anyone found the manual for coaching your child through their emotions, tantrums and other big emotion-based behaviors? To be honest, there isn’t one, and there won’t be one; we are all unique and unfortunately, there is no checklist to follow.
Let’s face it and accept that children are hard to understand, communicate with, coach, and sometimes even hard to like! It seems that they can explode with emotions out of nowhere, or when we think they should have emotion, they don’t. It’s all a mystery. Although there is not one specific answer, there are a few things we can do as parents to support and coach kids through their own emotions.
Be Aware- Take notice of both you and your child’s emotions
The first thing we must do is check our own emotional temperature to see if we are in a space to emotionally guide someone else. As adults we often think that we can handle it ALL and that we need to manage the challenge right in the moment. Taking the time to be mindful of how a behavior made you feel will guide your response to your child’s emotions. Try asking yourself these questions to bring awareness to your emotions:
- What does my body feel?
- What words am I saying to myself?
- Can I coach/guide someone else?
- Am I calm enough?
- What is my child’s face, voice tone, or body language telling me? Are they coachable at the moment?
Look for the need
Needs drive behaviors. This is where looking past the behavior is important. Chances are, your child NEEDS something that they are not getting. Big emotions create opportunities for connection, and this is where ignoring the behavior is hard but essential! You can address the behavior after the emotion has been managed. As adults, we need to acknowledge that a child does not want to act how they are acting; however, they don’t have the words to express themselves in a healthy way. This is where coaching comes in. Communicating a desire to connect is immensely powerful and will help your child understand their emotions. Expressing a neutral and supportive voice tone, affect, and body language will communicate connection. See why it’s important to be aware of your own emotions? It’s hard to express neutral and supportive language if you are feeling heightened emotions like anger.
Be the mirror and REFLECT
Help your child see what they are doing or saying by simply making a quick recap of what they said or did. Help them name the feeling that they are expressing.
- “So, you are angry because the teacher failed you?”
- “I wonder if you are feeling sad because…”
It’s okay to guess if you don’t know what exact feeling your child is experiencing, and they can then try to tell you. Keep listening, don’t get sucked into the behavior. This is where you need to breathe and remember you have a goal of coaching them to calm down.
Validate, Validate, Validate
Validating someone’s emotions or experiences makes them feel heard and understood and can improve relationships through reducing anger and unhealthy reactions to that anger. To validate someone’s feelings, the first step is to be open and curious about their feelings. Next, it is to understand them, and finally it is to nurture them. But how do I validate when I don’t understand what they are feeling? Or I do understand but I do not agree with it. Here are some validating phrases to help you:
- Something about this is hard and I believe you, help me understand it more.
- I could understand why you would feel that way.
- If I was in your shoes, I would probably feel the same way.
You will be tempted to add more and to expand on this, but giving simple validation will help a person feel seen; this is not the time to offer any advice.
It’s important that your child knows that ALL feelings are okay to express, however all actions are NOT! Sometimes big emotions can create big actions, some that may need consequences. These behaviors may include yelling, hitting, not following directions, cursing, or not responding to any verbal interaction. Make the consequence small and age appropriate. Try out these boundary statements to use when enforcing a better response to a big behavior:
- It is okay that you feel angry, it is not okay to hit.
- It is okay to feel overwhelmed, but it’s not okay to just leave the room or not respond. Let’s think of a word to use so you can express that you need to be alone, and I’ll know to give you space.
To recap, there is no guide on coaching your child through their emotions. It starts with being curious enough to have calm conversations. It’s about taking the time to dive deep with your child to understand their perspective. Once you can understand their thoughts, it can give you a better understanding of their emotions and behaviors. Do not look to them to express their feelings adequately, as they may not have the language, (most adults don’t have it). All you can do is help them explore their emotions.
If you are having challenges and want to explore more with a professional to find the right tools, please reach out to our Behavioral Health team and get connected with a provider.