Practical Ways to Help Your Children Manage Emotions

Good Monday morning friends! In the midst of post-Easter sugar meltdowns, I have some practical tips for managing your children’s emotions.

If you have spent any time in this space here, you know two things about me. First, I’m not necessarily the practical one. I like abstract, pretty words that tell our story. No helpful tips from me. Usually. And two: My babies have BIG feelings and we go round and round all the livelong day attempting to parent them through the storms.

Lo and behold, as a result of point number two, I am negating point number one. I recently discovered the book, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: A survival guide to life with children. Written by parenting and education expert Johanna Faber, along with Julie King, it has proven invaluable to me as we navigate the twists and turns of pre-adolescent emotions.

I mentioned before about the idols I propped up for myself along the path of my parenting journey. Specifically, idols of obedience and responsiveness. Nowhere in there did I factor in the sheer magnitude of my kids and their feelings. The whole of the book is worth the read, but I’d like to provide a brief overview of chapter one, and the ways it has offered us relief, and given me more opportunities to give grace. Given me more opportunities to breath deep and model the gospel for my babes.

The basic premise is that by naming and acknowledging their feelings, we teach our children to manage them better, and to know themselves better. It is much more difficult to obey in the face of a wave of negative feelings, and while we depend on the gospel to change our hearts, it is always helpful to offer our children practical tools in the face of so much emotion. It is much harder to behave right when we don’t feel right.

One: Acknowledge your children’s feelings with words. Sounds simple, right? But so important. By giving them a name, you give your children a vocabulary in which to use when the emotions threaten to overwhelm.

Not talking yet, but clearly displeased!

Then, they have words to use, “I’m so ANGRY,” rather than a door slam or a wall punch. I am deep in the throes of this with my six year old as he learns to control his temper. Often, the naming of his feelings, combined with tight, calming hugs can lessen the impact of his meltdown, or avoid it altogether. Instead of dismissing his emotions as trivial, or overreacting, he is learning to identify and control them.

It’s important to note here that once you identify the feelings, SIT ON THOSE BUTS. This one gave me pause, because I do this often.

“I know you are angry, BUT I still need you to clean up your toys.” By saying BUT, you are saying I know how you feel, but here is why your feeling is wrong. Instead, replace it with the phrase “The problem is…” I like to say, “How we can solve this problem … “

Case in point: The other day my oldest came into my office dressed up for school. Unfortunately, she had failed to shower that morning EVEN THOUGH I had reminded her approximately a million times the night before to take a shower. When I gently informed her that she looked lovely, but needed to go shower, she burst into loud sobbing tears. Apparently she had spent 30 minutes carefully picking out her outfit.  My typical response to this is to react with frustration. Wracking sobs, in my mind, is a wildly inappropriate reaction to having to clean yourself. This time though, I stayed calm, and I sat on my buts. “I know you are really frustrated after you spent all that time picking out your outfit. It must be annoying to have to take it off after so much work. How can we solve this problem that results in you being clean this morning?”

She takes fashion seriously.

Her suggestion was to take a shower that night. Well, no, I said, that doesn’t solve the problem of you being clean. By this time, she had stopped crying. Then she asked, “Can I take a bath in your bathtub?” Because I have the deep whirlpool tub that comfortably fits a giant. BINGO. Problem solved. Of course you can! No more tears, no more defiance – her whole attitude changed. And then, later when she is calm and clean, I can whisper the gospel to my girl, I can teach her what is and isn’t appropriate, without yelling at her in the midst of her meltdown.

Now we are both listening, to the Holy Spirit, and to each other.

This is getting long! Stay tuned for part two where I tell you all the ways you can help acknowledge those feelings, for the verbal and the nonverbal, and other Very Important Points from Ms. Faber and Ms. King.

And dig in Mommas. You are doing a good job.



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