Dealing with children’s emotions can be difficult and challenging. A typical trap parents fall into is that they are trying to find a solution or disprove the child’s feeling in an attempt to take away their pain. Unfortunately, this can send signals to the child that it is not okay to feel what the child is feeling. It might lead the child to feel like the parent does not understand and it can hinder the child from learning about what is going on inside of them. Your job as a parent is not to take away the childs emotion, but rather to help the child child understand and deal with their feelings. This is what we call emotion coaching. When your child is experiencing an emotion, try using the following steps:
1) Notice the emotion. Try to understand what it is that is actually going on within the child, preferably in light of what has happened. For example, if you see your younger child wanting to play with his bigger brother but is rejected by him, your child might feel sad. Try to put yourself in your childs shoes and figure out what it must be like.
2) Put words to the emotion. Show your child that you understand what it must be like by putting a few words to it: “I can see that you are sad because you didn’t get to play your brother. That must be upsetting.” And don’t worry if you didn’t get it right. Your child will let you know, and you can give it another go.
3) Validate and confirm the emotion. This means normalizing and showing that it is okay for the child to feel that way. A good validation would start with “It’s no wonder that…” Like, for example, “It’s no wonder you got upset, because you just wanted to play with him and have a good time, but he wouldn’t let you.”
4) Meet the emotional need. Remember that this is not the practical solution to the problem, but rather the emotional need. It could be a need for comfort, support, peace of mind, or self assertion. In the example above, it might be: “Do you want a hug or sit on my lap?”
5) If needed, help find a solution to the problem. Often, the first four steps will suffice, and the child vill find the solutions themself. If your child still needs help, you may want to suggest a solution, such as talking to your big brother.