We’ve all been there – overwhelmed, tired, hungry or just plain fed up. As adults, most of us have learned what do when we feel like we’re at the end of our rope. Whether it is texting a friend, going for a run or sneaking in an extra chocolate after dinner, we hopefully have learned to deal with our emotions in mostly healthy ways.
But what about our kids? Big feelings can be hard for little ones to manage, but it’s one of the most important skills to master as they are growing up. As adults, we can model healthy self-expression and actively teach kids the skills they need.
Start by helping your child put words to their feelings. It can be as simple as saying, “I can see that you are very angry.” Validation is a powerful tool that lets kids know that they are seen and heard. Children need to learn that it is okay to feel what they feel, but they are still responsible for what they do.
Try to help kids separate feelings from behaviors. You can say, “I can see that you are upset with your brother, but you’re not allowed to hit.” Then, see if they can come up with solutions or you can help make some suggestions. Ask questions that will encourage creative problem solving. “I know that sister is making a mess of your game, can you think of a better place to move so that she can’t reach it”? With some practice, your kids will become expert problem solvers!
Here are some other tips that can help in the middle of a meltdown:
- Just breathe. Blow bubbles or have your child pretend to blow up a giant balloon. Deep breathing can provide a sense of calm and relaxation.
- Offer choices. “We’re leaving for school; would you like to wear the blue jacket or a sweater?” By letting your child have some choices, they learn to make the best of what they view as a less than desirable situation.
- Time Out. Don’t just use time-outs to discipline for bad behavior. This is a great tool for kids and adults to learn to use when you need a few minutes to regroup.
- Change the volume. Instead of yelling, “be quiet” or “calm down” at your kids, try whispering it. Children will notice the change in tone, and might just follow your lead.
- Go for a walk or play tag outside. Exercise is a great way to deal with stress and pent up feelings. A change of location can help you and your child get a fresh start to your day.
- Use humor. Have a silly catch phrase to use when you or your child is about to lose it or make a silly face. Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine!
- Offer compassion and forgiveness for your child and yourself. We’re all going to mess up in spite of our best intentions. Be quick to let your child know when you have messed up and ask for forgiveness when necessary. Let them know that an apology and a hug can fix just about anything.