Updated: Feb 24
How to Step Back and Bring the Calm
It can be easy for emotions to escalate in a matter of seconds over the silliest things regarding your kids! For example, they're running late for soccer and can't find their cleats. Still, somehow YOU are the one they want to lash out at with blame when they realize you've put the shoes in the shoe bin and they had expected them to be on the floor in the entry, right where they left them! Or they lose points because you didn't sign their homework packet for the week, even though they never asked–this one happened in my household this week!
In moments like these, you may feel like your child's reactions are personal, but as Elaine Taylor-Klaus would say, "Don't take the bait!" Whatever is going on with them has nothing to do with you; instead, it illustrates how they're feeling in the moment.
It's important to remember:
People are generally doing the best they can at any given moment.
Kids do well if they can. (Ross Greene)
They have underdeveloped skills to handle this situation any better.
The parent's job is to lower their emotional charge.
Logic won't work here. Dr. Becky Kennedy coined it beautifully when she said, "You can't learn to regulate feelings you don't allow yourself to have." Letting your child feel and helping them manage their emotions is essential. Their feelings won't go away, so it is important not to suppress their emotions in order for them to learn to manage them!
When your emotionally charged child appears, remember the most important steps you can take as their parent:
Validate their feelings and experience. "I hear you. You know how you're feeling. You know what you're experiencing, and it feels like a lot right now. I believe you."
Listen and reflect on what they’ve shared to see if you've captured and understood them correctly. Developed by psychologist Carl Rogers, reflecting back on your understanding of what was said allows you to listen with intent and empathize with others, so they feel understood. "It sounds like you're really frustrated with your performance on the test. Do I understand that correctly?" Or maybe they're struggling with a friend. You might say, "I think you're saying you felt betrayed when your friend shared your secret with others."
Empathize with them. "I can imagine why you'd feel so upset about your test. You studied hard and put in a lot of effort." And when it comes to their friendship troubles, a simple, "I can see why you're frustrated. I know how much you care about your relationship with your friend. It's painful when a friend betrays our trust."
Ask open-ended questions to help them problem-solve their own solutions. Once your child feels acknowledged, heard, and understood, they'll likely begin to calm down, which means they'll be in a space where they can start to problem solve…and maybe with you! "What would you have done differently to prepare for the test?" Perhaps they have answers, maybe not! But the important thing is to give them some thought-provoking questions they can only answer for themselves. "How do you feel about talking to your friend about how they hurt you?" You can just focus on listening with curiosity and without judgment.
Validating, listening and reflecting, empathizing, and asking open-ended questions will bring you closer to them and strengthen their trust in you (and themselves!). Your child will see you as someone they feel safe and comfortable opening up to, and they may even approach you with their next problem or stress point. Your child will also learn to process their feelings and problem-solve. As parents, we are our kids' most significant source of calm. When we can regulate our emotions and stay calm, we can not only be a supportive source of peace for our children, but we can handle any chaos that comes our way.
If this process feels foreign and challenging, you're not alone! Many parents were not raised in a spirit of validation and empathy. However, this doesn't mean we can't learn new and better ways of handling emotions for ourselves and our children. If you'd like to learn more, please check out the helpful information by the experts mentioned in this month's blog: Elain Taylor-Klaus, Dr. Becky, and Dr. Ross Greene. To help expand your feelings and emotions vocabulary, we recommend checking out Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett, Ph.D., and Atlas of the Heart by Dr. Brene Brown.
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Written by Jenny Aguilar (M. Ed., ET/P) and Geneva Walsh (M. Ed.)