Teaching children it is OK to FEEL
During the toddler period, I recall vividly my daughter needing a lot of help with regulating her emotions. To put it bluntly, she spent much of her time being an emotional wreck. And while the ageing process has definitely helped, as a seven year old she still experiences big, wild emotions that can come on like a hurricane. An event occurs, she interprets it in some way and then comes the response. From an external view, her face may turn red, tears well up and I notice her limbs stiffen in preparation to fight or flee the scene. There can also be obscene yelling.. the type of yelling where I cringe wondering what the neighbour must think! What are we to do in this situation? It is so easy to be triggered ourselves. Our experience of being parented comes in right on cue. We could yell right back, demanding that they stop and use punishment as a consequence, just as many of us experienced from our own parents. But what is this actually going to achieve? What is the lesson that the child will learn? If it happens regularly, they may learn to be fearful of the parent if their response is scary enough. Or they may learn that to get attention quickly they need to yell. They may not learn to trust their feelings as being valid. Or their feelings don't matter; they are not worthy of being truly heard. Over time this could turn into the belief that they are unlovable when they show strong emotions, so they suppress them instead.
It's pretty uncomfortable for parents to have to hold space for an emotional wreck; we are wired to be in tune with our children and they are wired to get us to feel with them, no matter how tough those feelings are.
What would happen if we change this cycle.. what if we can turn this around to become a teaching opportunity for our children to learn to really FEEL these big feelings and let them out instead of repressing them? How we help our children regulate provides a model for how they will regulate themselves in the future. Some tips for helping your child include:
Allow the tears to flow
Just like us, children's feelings accumulate. They can build up like a pressure cooker. Except children have not matured enough to recognise or express that they need ‘a good cry’, so they rely on events that create the tears initially; in this process they can connect with what they have accumulated inside. Did you know that tears actually release stress hormones? It is healthy and healing to let them out. Our role becomes sitting with our child and their tears until there is none left.
Let the tantrum out
Unresolved or an incomplete release of feelings will result in a 'never ending' tantrum, constant limit testing and what we see as defiance. What our child really needs is for us to provide containment so they can safely release what is feeling bad in their body.
Teach your child to tune inwards
Developing an awareness of where in their body they are feeling is such an important skill to learn. It is something that we don't tend to think about or focus on, let alone teach children. This skill takes time and practice, but it is key to emotional freedom. For example, noticing a lump in your throat may indicate there are words or sounds that need to be released. It could be as simple as asking your child "Where is the feeling in your body? and how does it feel?"
Tune in to yourself
Check in with how you are feeling. This will often be a reflection of what they are feeling. Your child has an innate ability to act or say exactly what is needed to induce a feeling in you that they are feeling inside themselves. So tuning in to your own feelings, and where they are occurring in the body will be a big clue as to how your child may be feeling and what they may need to release.
It is not realistic that we will be empathic and available at all times. If it is not a good time or place to address how your child is feeling as it is unfolding, that is ok. Children tend to know intuitively when we are available and whether it is safe for them to really let go and be completely vulnerable, or not. If the release of big feelings is not completed, these feelings will live just below the surface and there will always be an opportunity to face them at a later time. Remember it’s never too late to heal.
Until next time!