It’s a typical Wednesday afternoon. You pick up the kids and ask your grade schooler how was his day, he said “fine.” Then at the smallest provocation with his little brother, he started to scream and hit. You focus on his screaming and hitting and reprimand him for his aggressive behavior and missed that this is an unusual over reaction from your child.
Later you’re able to check in with your child and you find out he was excluded on the playground at lunch time. Your child is too young to make the connection from earlier in the day and verbalize why he’s upset.
Maybe you’ve also had a long day and weren’t able to really listen to your son and what was bothering him, what was underneath his quick response. As a result, you missed helping him understand that feeling excluded is horrible; you missed teaching him that kids often excluded for their worries and fears. He did not get a chance to learn proper channels for his earlier playground frustration. All he knows is that if he expresses anger, he will get reprimanded but he will also get attention. When chronically misguided, he might become overly timid at expressing his needs or have anger tantrum when anger becomes overloaded.
All is not lost! Teaching your child emotional regulation takes time but the results are worth it.
What’s the purpose of emotions?
Emotions are instinctual. You’re born equipped with the ability to experience a full range of emotions; from happiness to sadness, from playful to anger, from grateful to shame, from fear to courage; from disgust to love and lust and many more. Happiness feels good and motivates us to reach for it. Anger propels us to do something about being wronged. Fear holds us back from potential danger. Lust drives us toward a potential mate. Guilt teaches us not to repeat the causal behavior again.
Your child is not always clued into the why he feel a certain way, what caused it, and what to do about it. When parents or other loving adults help him understand the causes of his feelings, name the feelings, and assist in developing appropriate response to channel the feelings, your child develop emotional wisdom and resulting emotional regulation.
Regulation doesn’t mean suppression
Regulation means proper channeling of the emotions into its meaningful purpose. Suppression is when expression of feelings are prohibited either through harsh criticism, shaming of the behavior, or neglect. The problem with suppression is that feelings have a purpose; anger propels us to pursue our right, playfulness is motivational, gratefulness increases our inter-connectedness. Feeling help us learn to live our lives with purpose.
What leads to poor emotional wisdom?
When there’s frequent missed attunement, your child will have harder time developing emotional wisdom. In addition, your child might also learn that he’s “bad” child for hitting his brother, a child no one likes because he was “excluded”, and no valued because no one hears and supports him. Those negative beliefs start to chip away his well-being and color the lens he sees the world and further erode future interactions.
So, as parents, how do you help your child develop emotional wisdom and resulting emotional regulations?
- Investigate and use your intuition to divine the real cause before reacting.
- Help your child make sense of why he is feeling this way.
- Empathize with your child’s feelings.
- Repair any potential damaging beliefs he might have as a result of his negative experience.
- Ask your child for solutions for next time and provide a few alternatives if he cannot.
- Discuss the effect of his infraction on other people (his brother, potential others, you).
- Appreciate his effort in sharing and problem solving with you.
- You might still choose to give him a relevant consequence to the infraction if you feel like he doesn’t properly understand the impact of his outburst.
- When you see him making effort to solve problems in new more effective way, reinforce it by showing acknowledgement and appreciations.
You don’t have to be attuned to your child all the time, but the more often you help him make sense of his feelings and choose proper outlet, the better he will be at regulating emotions. Stay tuned for next week’s post where I get into more detail and provide tips on how to support your child in developing emotional wisdom. Sign up for my newsletter for tips on building emotional wisdom in your children. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org