On my side of the family, we only have kids that are sassy, spirited and strong-willed (it may have something to do with the fact that 5 out of the 6 grand kids are adopted). One of the things that has been most surprising for me is how much emotion these kids have! When they are happy, they are intensely happy. When they are upset, they are intensely upset!
Watching these kids get so upset has been hard for me. I keep drawing a blank on how to help them and just find myself repeating “calm down” over and over again.
That’s why I am so jazzed about today’s episode! Mike Fitch, CMHC gives calming techniques that are specific to your child. By the end of the episode, you will know how to create an “emotional emergency kit” for your kids. (Bonus: these techniques are great for parents, too. Kids aren’t the only ones with big emotions.)
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Mike Fitch, CMHC
Note: If you need help being calmer, use the techniques in this post for yourself, too!
How do we help our strong-willed children manage their big emotions?
1. Realize that big emotions are normal for the strong-willed child
Know that their big emotions are absolutely normal! Strong-willed kids just seem to have more intense emotions. They are often your happiest child AND your most upset child. They feel things in extremes.
Big emotions are part of their personality. Some kids have very little personality and emotions while other have an extreme amount of personality and emotion. Having lots of emotions does not make your child bad, but they do need you to teach them how to manage their emotions.
2. Know that you are your child’s best emotional coach
One of the most important roles a parent has, is to be their child’s emotional coach. I’m not saying that a parent should take RESPONSIBILITY or OWNERSHIP of their child’s emotions. Rather, that parents are the ones who need to teach their children healthy ways to manage their emotions.
This is done both through words and through example. Your children will watch you to see how you manage your emotions and then will copy what you do.
3. Time PLUS Good coaching often lead to good outcomes
Trust that your children will be better equipped to manage their emotions as they age and mature. Your children’s brains are undergoing so much construction and reconstruction when they’re younger, that it is challenging for them to manage their emotions well. But think about how much more capable YOU are at managing your emotions than when you were younger.
However, maturity alone is not enough. Our kids do need the coaching I talked about earlier in order to learn how to manage their emotions. Then as they mature, they will know what to do and be better equipped to do it.
4. Learning to manage emotions is a lifelong process. Be patient with the process.
While you may be better able to manage your emotions as an adult, do you still struggle with your emotions? Chances are the answer is “Yes”. Emotions are a challenge for us ALL until the day we die.
While you are teaching your children to manage their emotions better, realize that they will have good days and bad days…just like you.
5. Teaching your child how to manage emotions now is a HUGE gift to them
Knowing that managing emotions is a lifelong process, imagine how much better off your kids will be because you are teaching them young. This will give them lots of opportunities to practice in the safety of your home. They will be so much further ahead than many of their peers.
Thank you for being a parent that cares as much as you do and is dedicated to helping their child!!
6. Become aware of how your child expresses their emotions:
I love to teach parents that kids express their emotions with different parts of their bodies. When you figure out what part of their body they express emotion, you can teach them to use that part of the body to SOOTHE emotions! This is a really cool technique.
Let’s break it down by zones
Zone #1 The Head:
This is the child that likes to yell and scream. They’re the the one that you can hear from three blocks away. They use tantrums a lot and may say mean things.
This child may also be a biter or a spitter.
What to do with a child who expresses emotion with their head:
Create a safe place where they are allowed to scream. We teach our kids that they can yell into their pillow all they want. If you’re out in public, you may need to make the car a place you can go to scream.
Next, teach your child how to express themselves in a healthy way, then allow them to express themselves! You can have rules and enforce rules about unhealthy ways of expression, that is completely appropriate. However, some parents aren’t willing to listen to their kids even when they are expressing themselves in a healthy way.
Practice giving these kids opportunities to talk and practice just listening.
Another idea is to give these kids gum to chew on or something else they can put in their mouths. Having their mouths be busy can help them sooth a little.
Note: Do remember that once the brain is completely flooded with emotions, the reasoning center in the brain shuts down. If your reasoning center is shut down, you will not be able to express yourself in a healthy way. The same is true of your kids. You may need to make a rule that you can talk to each other when you are both calm.
Zone #2 The core and arms
These are the kids that are punching, ripping things apart, or are throwing things. This is the zone that often looks more violent.
With these kids, we want to get something helpful in their hands. I like to recommend stress balls, playdough, lego’s, art supplies, etc. I tell my clients to even create a “calm down” box that full of items that they use with their hands. They can pull this box out anytime they’re upset and need to cool off.
With really young children who can’t use playdough or legos, try massaging their hands. You could also try doing playdough with them. You just want to find a safe way to have them experience sensation in their hands.
Zone #3 The legs
These kids tend to stomp, kick or run away. These are the kids that you want to walk with. You want to take short walks and keep walking. You don’t need to say anything while you’re walking, just know that getting their energy out will be soothing to them.
If you try the lecture during your walk, that’s probably going to make things worse. It’s going to make them more defensive. It’s going to cause them to not want to listen to and kind of run away from you.
Teaching your child how to calm themselves down is frustrating but really important. Some kids and adults turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to soothe themselves. Things such as: addictions, drugs, alcohol, pornography, food, etc. You are giving your child healthy coping mechanisms to try instead.
Beware that you are not trying to take control or ownership of your child’s emotions though. It is vital that you teach them tools then they learn how to use them on their own. They are not always going to be with you and they need to learn how to calm themselves when you’re not around.
I wish I would have had these tools when I was younger. I had to learn how to self-soothe as an adult.
There is a great book all about this topic written by John Gottman. I highly recommend it to all parents. You can get that here. Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child The Heart of Parenting
Want some more information on helping your kids with your emotions? Check out these posts/podcasts: