When your child lashes out with an “I hate you!” or “leave me alone!” how do you respond?
A. With complete silence. He’ll forget about whatever it is anyway when he gets hungry later
B. With a much higher tone and a “how dare you talk to me like that?”
C. With tears and an “I don’t know what I’ve done wrong in my life for you to do this to me!”
D. With laughter and a “go ahead, let’s see if you still hate me after i take away your new toys”
Did you answer with any of the above? If yes, well, I can’t blame you… you’re just human. You get tired from your daily tasks too and go through all sorts of stressful situations at work and at home. Capping a hard day with a little child’s emotional outburst doesn’t help at all.
Here are some suggestions to help you during these situations:
- Acknowledge your child's feelings. Try to acknowledge his feelings by saying, "I know you feel bad because we had to leave..."
- Listen to what he has to say. By simply allowing your child to express himself without interruption also helps his strong emotions to slowly dissipate, as he no longer needs the energy to defend himself in his position.
- Empathize with him. Instead of saying judgmental comments after his story, say things like “that must really be painful” or “I understand why you think that was unfair”.
- Don’t attempt to take control of your child's feelings. If your child is hurt and crying, for example, do not say "stop crying!". Instead, validate his experience by saying, "I know that hurts, sorry you’re feeling that way."
- Do not go down to your child's level of behavior. Your job as a parent is to stay calm and composed as your child goes about his emotional episode. By keeping calm and unphased during his emotional state, you’re teaching him that it’s okay to feel angry, and that when his anger passes, you are still there for him.
- Define acceptable and unacceptable behavior. There is a line between validating strong emotions and tolerating bad behavior. When your child starts expressing his anger physically by hitting, breaking things, throwing or disrespecting you with words, then you need to establish with him the consequences of such bad behavior.
- Teach your child how to relax. Most children, when confronted with anger, respond by crying, shouting, or worse, hitting another person. Teach your child how to do breathing exercises when he is starting to feel emotional.
- Teach him how to find solutions to problems rather than feel emotional about them. It’s been found that the more a child practices problem-solving instead of reacting emotionally, the more neurological pathways in his brain are activated to assist him in controlling his impulses.
- Tell your child that feelings come and go. Do this only when our child has calmed down and is ready to listen to you. It will be helpful to explain to him that strong feelings like anger pass through us like waves, it builds up until finally it reaches the peak then it subsides until its completely gone.
- Don’t be afraid to admit you’re wrong when you become emotional. As I said earlier, you’re human too. Though you know what needs to be done to set a good example to your child, sometimes you can’t help but succumb to your emotions.
Parents can't always have the answer to every problem that their children go through. But by teaching them healthy coping strategies towards anger and strong emotions, you're actually preparing them to manage the stresses that will come in the future.