The fact is, you can’t stop your child from getting upset, unlike your ability to set limits on his behaviour. Even as adults, there’ll be times when our emotions get the better of us. The difference is that, as adults, we have learned how to cope with these feelings in an appropriate way, while kids haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.
Your child might have problems dealing with his emotions because he lacks both self-awareness and does not have an adequate “emotional vocabulary” yet. The term refers to words, gestures and expressions to help him explain what he is feeling. Instead, he throws tantrums, cries, pouts, lashes out at other people, takes his anger out on others, ignores you, refuses to join in, whines, complains, and maybe even breaks things.
This may be because “parents don’t talk about emotions, fail to prioritise it, or ignore it, which can lead to poor self-awareness and a [build up] of negative emotions”, explains Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre.
“Parents don’t talk about emotions, fail to prioritise it, or ignore it, which can lead to poor self-awareness and a [build up] of negative emotions.”
You can start to teach your child how to manage his emotions as soon as he is able to respond to your instructions, Koh notes. In fact, if you don’t help them learn how to control his anger, Koh cautions that it can give rise to:
*Passive aggressive behaviours Instead of threatening or yelling and acting out, your child chooses to ignore your instructions or worse, your very existence.
*Bullying Feelings of shame and low self-esteem are closely related to the likelihood of a child becoming a bully.
*Self-harm Children who mutilate themselves often describe the feeling of cutting themselves as a release from all their pent-up emotions
*Isolation and avoidance Your child might become more and more withdrawn from the world, especially if he suffers bouts of depression later in life.
*Psychiatric disorders A wide array of mental health issues may plague children who don’t have emotional coping skills. These can run the gamut from Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to even anxiety disorders.
*Suicidal thoughts Dejection, sadness and depression can overwhelm your child. Worse, it can cause him to lose faith in life.
Continue reading for emotional management strategies your kiddo can acquire…
How children respond emotionally to a situation depends largely on their temperament, which is inborn. Some kids are easily frustrated, some are shy and easily scared, while others are more chill. We want our children to have feelings, but not be overwhelmed by them.
Helping our children regulate their emotions benefits them. Kids who can manage their emotions pay more attention, work harder, and achieve more in school. They are better able to resolve conflicts, show less stress, better behaved — and are more caring towards others. Koh shares his suggestions to help your child regulate his feelings:
1) Model good coping strategies
Use your own emotions to model both the positive and negative feelings, Koh notes. This will show him the acceptable way of expressing his emotions. After all, your kiddo learns by observing you. For instance, if you “comfort eat” — eating to relieve any negative feelings — your child is likely to mimic it. So, lead by example and show your child the right way to express himself.
2) Help them build their emotional vocabulary
Get your child to open up about how he feels by using lessons learnt in storybooks, TV shows and even cartoons. This will help them grow their emotional vocabulary and become more aware of the effects of his actions on others. Anecdotes about real-life events also work, too.
“Be there for your child with support and care. [Choose to] encourage your child and not put [him] down.”
3) Help them know the difference between feelings and actions
For example, feeling angry at a friend who has snatched his belongings is a valid emotion. But retaliating with physical force, on the other hand, isn’t. Help your child recognise the distinction between the emotion and the appropriateness of his reaction or behaviour. Koh advises that to show you love them enough to listen first, you should “listen, acknowledge and show understanding” before you intervene.
4) Teach them to let go in an acceptable way
Everyone has a different way of dealing with their emotions and there’ll always be an appropriate way your child can express himself without getting into trouble. Koh recommends methods like scribbling, writing or drawing in a diary or journal. Otherwise, suggest that he confides in someone whom he can trust — preferably you, your spouse or a trusted loved one. He can also reach out to counsellors on the Children’s Society's toll-free helpline, Twinkle Friend, at 1800-2744-788.
5) Foster good communication through bonding
The home should be a safe place for junior, so don’t ruin that sense of security. For instance, steer clear of creating sibling rivalry through excessive comparisons, or by valuing your child based on his school results or performance. Sometimes, all junior needs is a listening ear and someone he can rant to. Keeping open communication channels is the best way to understand your child’s behaviour, so that you can teach him techniques for managing his emotions.
Koh stresses, “Be there for your child with support and care. [Choose to] encourage your child and not put [him] down.”
Daniel Koh is a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre.
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