When children become upset - no matter the reason - it seems as if all polite adult behavior goes out the door. Suddenly, because it is a child, it's normal and accepted to be rude, rough and plain intolerant. Our children's emotional outbursts bring out our inner child and unhinge a lot of discomfort, they remind us of our powerlessness and the reactions of the adults in our lives and often create atrocious response. children are humans too, and if we want to break this vicious cycle, these are a few of the reactions we should try to repress:
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- Threaten - "Santa won't come if you don't stop crying!" Not only do we devalorize our children's emotions by threatening them (see below), we also put ourselves high and mighty and make them feel little (see below) and powerless.
- Devalue their emotions - "Stop crying! Don't be like that! You're overacting!" Children's emotions are real, just as real as adult emotions, only they haven't learned to repress them yet (and let's hope they don't, for their emotional and physical benefit). Just because these raw emotions make you uncomfortable doesn't mean they are displaced. And even if you think their outburst doesn't fit the situation, try to look at it from their part, they're just tiny, so everything is huge to them.
- Punish - There are millions of reasons not to punish a child, too many to go into for the sake of this post. But when they are upset, it is as displaced as it can get.
- Mimick - How often have I seen an adult start fake crying when a child is upset. That's about as pathetic and impolite as you can get. You wouldn't do it to your best friend, would you? So why do it to a child.
- Belittle - "Stop being a baby! How old are you?"
- Walk Away - Walking away tells your child their emotions don't matter, that they annoy you, that they don't deserve your love and attention and that you are not there for them. Are these the lessons you want them to learn? A little side not, sometimes you can get so upset by the events that walking away probably is the best option. Then do so, and take the moment to analyze your feelings and why you react this way. It's better to disconnect then to physically or emotionally harm your child.
- Phase out - Acting like nothing is wrong and you don't hear or see them has the same effect as walking away. Again, however, if this is the only way you can keep from becoming abusive, it's a better option. Take a moment to evaluate this reaction later on and find a way to deal with the situation in a healthier way.
- Act irritated - Seeing our child upset is uncomfortable for the most of us, but we shouldn't make our children feel like they are a nuisance just because they have emotions. That will only teach them to push their emotions down, not to deal with them.
- Sigh - Sighing makes your child feel like a burden, like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. However, your child's emotions are not yours to fix, there is no reason to feel burdened. If you feel like sighing, take a deep breath instead, maybe invite your child to do this too. This will make both of you feel better.
- Yell - People yell when they are powerless and out of resources, if your child is emotional, chances are this will only make matter worse. Read this article about yelling to find out the many reasons why this isn't the best response to any situation and how you can counteract this. If you have to yell, don't yell at your child, but vocalize, turn it into opera if that's what helps.
Now imagine anyone doing any of these to you when you are crying because you're really hurt. Wouldn't feel good, would it?
Obviously, I wouldn't just tell you what not to do without offering you a set of alternative reactions. However, there is no quick fix (you don't even need to fix anything, emotions are human and expressing them is healthy), every child and every situation is different. You know your child best and you probably already know what not to do in certain situation.
- Get down to their level - Getting on an equal level eases the big adult small child discomfort and will make both parties feel more equal. It's also harder to be angry and punitive when you're on your knees.
- Look them in the eyes - Making eye contact can be a good way to ground yourself and to get rid of your stress. The child can connect with you and know he is loved.
- Hug them - For some children, physical contact during emotional outbursts can be hugely comforting. It is also a way to show your concern and presence. (Some children don't like to be touched, and may get even more upset by this)
- Remain present - Just being there without judgement or frantic looking for solutions lets them know that their emotions are valid and gives them the momentum to soothe themselves.
- Ask them what they would like - Maybe they are upset because of something and explaining it will help them out of this situation. Knowing they have a listening ear can often be enough.
- Sit with them - Just doing nothing might be the best approach, this way you are telling the child that you are there, and that you are not worried, and he gets to take care of his emotions on his own.
- Speak calmly - whisper even, if that's what calms you down, it will generally calm the child too.
- Hum - singing or humming will ease out the stress in you and might refocus the child's attention.
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