Anyone who has been following me for a while would have heard me say ‘a thought is just a thought, it’s not necessarily truth and we don’t have to believe our thoughts”………… especially if they are not helpful and supportive.
The same can be said for emotions, whilst it’s important to recognize and validate our emotions, its important not to confuse them with reality and let them rule our actions.
So how do we manage our emotions and our kids emotions?
The first thing I want to talk about is how we all get hooked on emotions. One of my favorite authors/psychologists in the field of emotions is Susan David PhD from the Harvard Medical School. She wrote the book Emotional Agility and it goes beautifully with the Growth Mindset work of my other favorite psychologist, Dr Carol Dweck, I absolutely recommend both books for parents, CEOs and everyone in between.
Getting hooked on our emotions is a very natural thing . We learn how to manage our emotions from our parents and caregivers growing up, so, if we’ve not been able to move through emotions in a healthy way, we can get ‘hooked’ on certain feelings. These are our triggers, the things that set us off.
For you, it might be feeling disrespected at work, it might be being ignored, it might be being criticized or you might get annoyed by people who are ‘too nice’. Whatever it is, we all have our triggers and when they get set off, we become hooked on the emotions associated with that trigger.
Let’s start with the grown ups and their triggers. Think about a common parenting problem, getting our kids to listen and do what we need them to do. Say they are watching their favourite show and you ask them to get ready for school. You ask once and feel ‘ok they just may not have heard me’, you ask again, they don’t move, the third time you lose it and start to shout, now the whole neighbourhood has heard you too.
Here’s what’s happened…….. you feel disrespected and ignored so you resort to shouting because you want and need to be heard, then BINGO you’re hooked on your emotions – they are in charge now and taking you on their rollercoaster.
When things like this happen how can you manage your emotions better to get a better outcome from your children?
Here’s a few ideas:
Take stock of the situation and your child’s point of view
Firstly, take a long deep breath in and take a few seconds to let it out. Now consider a different scenario to the one playing around in your head. I’m guessing it might sound like this “I’m so sick of being ignored and disrespected by Jimmy, it is not acceptable behaviour and I’m not having it anymore”.
What if……. something amazing just happened in Jimmy’s show and he was captivated? What if Jimmy was daydreaming about being in that show right now and he was the hero? It’s entirely possible and depending on your child’s age, developmentally appropriate for Jimmy not to have heard a word you said. If that is the case, getting out of your own head can provide you with some perspective on what could be going on for Jimmy.
Choose your response
On the other hand, if Jimmy did hear you and ignored you because, well he loves his show more than getting ready for school, then you need to be strategic about whether following your feelings on this will get you where you want to go. Will shouting make Jimmy do what you want? He may shut down and get upset and then you need to spend the next 5 minutes consoling him. He may meet you at your anger levels and then it’s really on. He may get scared, get dressed quickly and feel awful for the rest of the morning. Either way, is that how you want things to go?
Choosing how you respond puts you in the drivers seat. Evaluate your options. How can you respond in a way that will get Jimmy dressed and get you all out the door on time? Then when you are on the way to school, talk about your feelings and how hard it is when Jimmy doesn’t listen and strategize a solution together.
Address the triggers
Often when we have moments like this we can reflect back on them and try to understand why we react in certain ways. We may hate to be ignored because it was something a parent did to us when we were younger. We may hate feeling disrespected because we were treated disrespectfully by someone we loved in our past. Our triggers all come from somewhere and when we are aware of them, we can address them, either through talking it through with your partners, friends, therapist and thinking about strategies to deal with them.
One of the best strategies for taking a moment between feelings and actions is deep breathing. I like to use box breathing, where you breath in for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, breath out for 4 seconds and hold that for 4 seconds. Focusing on our breathing helps to slow our nervous system down and gives us that time between stimulus and response to react more rationally.
No matter what has gone on, you are allowed to feel whatever it is you feel. You don’t need to judge yourself but you also don’t need to let your emotions rule your life.
Now what about the kids?
As we know, kids have LOTS of emotions, triggers and hooks and of course this is normal from birth through to adolescence. Sometimes I feel awful for my boys and their emotions because they just don’t understand where they come from or why they are having them. As parents we know all the things that can lead to emotional outbursts; like too much sugar, not enough to eat, not enough sleep, too much stimulation, not enough stimulation, hormones, devices, tricky friendships, frustration, lack of understanding, the list goes on….and on.
What are we supposed to do with their BIG emotions?
Something I have learned since studying mindset and emotional agility is how my parents generation were pretty crap at managing kids emotions. I grew up in an era when kids, especially boys, were told to ‘stop crying’ with the implication that crying was something only babies did. A lot of us X & Y geners were sent to our rooms when we had angry outbursts or BIG emotions, as if we should be ashamed of our feelings. I think some parents still use these strategies today because that is how they were brought up. Thankfully we know a lot more now about emotions and what happens when we try to shut emotions down.
The best thing we can do for our kids to give them a secure attachment (which they can take into their adolescent and adult relationships) is to allow them to feel ALL of their feelings without fear of punishment, rejection, sense of shame or the need to self censor. In allowing them to experience all of their emotions, as parents, we are teaching them that emotions pass, they are not big, bad scary things to be afraid of, they can teach us things about what is going on for us.
The best way to help children experience their emotions is to hold space for them. You might have to get out of your own head first and address your own emotions . But once you have done that, be with them, sit with them and let them experience whatever it is they need to experience and express, in a safe and loving space.
Depending on their age you can let them know you’re there to listen if they want to talk. Sometimes a big fat cry is all kids need to release the tension. They may not know what is causing their big emotions, so if you have an inkling you can help them to label it – maybe they’re frustrated, or tired or angry they lost something. All valid feelings.
On the other hand, just to be clear, whilst you need to validate and acknowledge your child’s feelings, it doesn’t mean you have to tolerate tantrums, or aggressive behaviours. You can validate their feelings ‘I can see you are angry and yes I understand that, but its not OK to throw things’. This is where we show its ok to have feelings but its important to still behave in a safe and appropriate way so no-one gets hurt.
I’m going to leave this blog here now, but there is much more to talk about, especially about building emotionally agile kids.
Please reach out if you’re looking for more. MY DIY online e-course is a great resource full of small chunks of parenting tips to support growth mindset and emotional agility in your kids. You can find it here
Until next time, yours in parenting