Talking about BIG emotions.
This week I went live in my Facebook group: 'Katie's Classroom - Honest Parent Chat' talking about children with big emotions and how we can help them.
Here's a little synopsis of my chat. I hope you find it useful!
Our experience of BIG emotions with our son Harry, aged 8...
Harry has some BIG emotions and for the last 6 months his emotions have got bigger, stronger and harder for Harry and us to handle them.
Lately, Harry has been more up and down, more upset over seemingly small things, quicker to get cross, quicker to cry, quicker to go into a complete rage, quicker to slam doors, scream and shout.
I have tried to analyse his emotional outbursts - are they down to hormones? His personality? He's extremely competitive, a perfectionist by nature and has always worn his heart on his sleeve. Is something going on at school? Is he feeling left out? Is he anxious about something?
I think if we were to ask Harry how he feels I think he would say "everyone is out to get me" and this is exactly how he behaves. It's like he feels under attack and his response is to cry, scream and shout...and slam doors!
Evidently, Harry doesn't know how to handle his emotions and to date I feel we struggle with what to do in these moments too. His emotions of anger, hurt, frustration, panic etc clearly bubble up inside him and he finds it really hard to self-regulate.
Regression, aggression and expression!
As parents we often think and hope that we'll just try and keep our children happy all the time, which is ridiculous really isn't it? Not only is it ridiculous, it's exhausting, not to mention impossible!
Often, when Harry has his big emotions, our go-to parenting style is to repress his emotions and often we do this unintentionally. If he cries we'll find ourselves saying "stop crying", "stop shouting", "stop screaming" or simply give him a look. Harry's emotions especially the anger and frustration ones are really really stressful to deal with and we'll do anything to just shut them up if I'm being honest but in doing this we're just repressing them, which I'm coming to realise is not good, in fact it's the worst thing we can do.
Often the emotions and feelings that we've repressed bubble up inside Harry and spill out of him into aggression. Harry becomes even more angry and then he's labelled as naughty and horrible etc.
So what I am realising is that we don't want to repress Harry's feelings and emotions but give him a safe space to express his emotions. We want to teach him that all feelings are welcome. It's OK to express how we are. Every part of Harry is ok - the happy Harry, the sad Harry, the angry Harry. All of Harry is welcome. We're not going to try and fix Harry but lean into all of his feelings and emotions, let him feel them and then let him let them go.
Why does my child have big emotions?
So why does Harry have such big emotions? Often children don't know how to express their emotions. The easiest thing for your child to do is to rage, shout, get angry and upset. Remember, children don't come immediately out of us knowing how to express their emotions so we have to teach them. We need to teach Harry an emotional vocabulary, an emotional understanding.
How can we help our children with their emotions?
Fundamentally we need to build Harry's emotional understanding.
Sometimes it feels like Harry is up and down all the time and this makes the situation feel really out of control.
Start writing down the triggers.
So something we can start doing is to start a journal - each day write down or make a list of all Harry's possible triggers. Ok this sounds a bit laborious but even if you make a note in your head or on your phone. We can start writing down the time when Harry has emotional outbursts and where they happen and we might begin to see a pattern.
It's really stressful when Harry gets angry but we want to try and put a pause on disciplining him and dig deeper into really understanding what is going on and we can do 3 more things...
1 Label your child's emotions as they happen.
The first thing we can do with Harry is to start talking to him about his emotions and the easiest thing to do is to label them as they happen. You can do this even with toddlers - giving them the language and vocabulary they need like "you're frustrated aren't you?" and "you're feeling angry" or "you're upset". My Emotion and Feeling Cards are fantastic for this too!
2 Talk to your child about their core fear/anxiety/worry/anger/upset etc.
Another way of building Harry's emotional understanding is helping him to understand what is making him anxious, cross, upset, frustrated, want to scream, shout, punch you in the face, slam doors etc. What are his triggers? What does make him cross? What does make him so upset? We want our children to make the connection that it is ok to have their emotions and talk about their big emotions without punishment. When children feel listened to, this immediately calms them.
3 Let them come up with their own coping strategies.
Another thing we can do with Harry is to let Harry tell us what is something he could do to make them himself feel better. Any kind of calming skill has to be something that he has come up with - you don't want to force your child to have your coping mechanism. It won't work. We could say something like "it looks like you're feeling really upset, what do you want to do about it?" We want to empower our children to work it out themselves. When children write down their own stuff, they own it more than if they are dictated to.
Things to remember...
We want to get Harry into a place where he is self-regulating. He is understanding him own emotions and coming up with strategies to help calm himself down. We want Harry to begin to identify his emotions and label them; self-regulate and use his own coping mechanisms.
Stop trying to fix them!
I think the biggest take away of this is for us to stop trying to fix Harry's behaviour. We want to address his emotions not his behaviour. It's not about teaching them to behave but more about the mind/body connection.
Compassionate listening is key.
So when Harry next has a big emotional outburst, I'm going to validate his feelings and listen. I want Harry to feel all his feelings. Give him space to express how he feels. Listen to his worries and between the tears. I'm going to replace discipline with compassionate listening and remember, that there is always a reason behind his behaviour.
There you go! I hope my chat about Harry and his big emotions have helped you and given you some ideas of how you can help your child with their emotions. I would love to hear from you. Please reply to this email and let me know your thoughts.