One day you stopped and noticed the tantrums are getting more intense, lasting longer and becoming more frequent. The whining starts from the moment they get up and its driving you nuts? Everything that crosses their path on TV or with friends is resulting in them badgering you about how unfair life is and that everyone gets more than them. And so the guilt sets in and you start to feel ill-equipped to handle the tantrums and whining. We’ve all had a moment like this, so how do we know if our child’s emotions are developing appropriately?
Building emotional skills starts from an early age and can determine our children’s ability to regulate, interact and grow into resilient and capable adolescents. How a child responds to the feelings that they experience in their everyday life impacts heavily on their behaviour, and how they cope with, and enjoy life.
It is important that you help your children learn how to cope with feelings. Research over the past 30 years has let us know that babies and toddlers feel deeply, and have the capacity to experience a whole range of emotions. Unfortunately, as young children (including primary school ages) do not have the language to label or articulate their experiences, it can become difficult to know how to best respond and support their emotional development and growth.
The most important step we can teach our children is to embrace emotions – not to push them away, pretend they do not occur, or to fear them. Feelings are not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – they just are. Feelings are like a tap, you cannot turn off your emotions without turning all of them off. In other words, feelings of love and anger, sadness, disappointment and joy all co-exist and are part of everyone’s experience of emotions.
Emotions are in our whole body, from head to toe. Our brain does not just do things all on its own. Emotions are an exchange between the world, our bodies and our brains. Young children’s emotions are mainly made up of physical reactions (e.g., heart racing, feeling hot, feeling butterflies in the stomach) and as they develop, they being to recognise these signs as part of emotional states. You can assist your children to label and understand these body sensations with feeling words – this helps children understand the signals they are receiving.
Letting Emotions Guide Decisions
Children are not going to be happy all the time, and it is not helpful to expect or promote this belief. Persevering through difficult experiences, overcoming barriers, experiencing disappointment and sadness, encourages their emotional development, building resilience and emotional strength. Deciding what is reasonable to be concerned about involves your values as parents and the long-term outcome your wish for your children. For instance allowing your children to notice their desire to have a toy, phone or the latest clothing; teaching them to manage their disappointment if they cannot have it immediately and showing them a way to be patient; then devising a plan to either work towards achieving it or letting the idea go, can have a lasting effect on their future including effort, work ethic and relationship building skills.
Tips for noticing body sensations:
- Do – Praise your child’s effort at noticing what is happening within their body, e.g. “I like the way you stopped to really notice your feeling signals”.
- Don’t – Praise your child, i.e. “good boy”.
Tips for experiencing body sensations:
- Do – Encourage your child to take a slow breath and experience the sensations that they are experiencing and understand they are not harmful (remind yourself also).
- Don’t – rush your child through the experience in an effort to avoid or discount feelings that are not pleasant.
Tips for normalisation:
- Do – Show empathy and teach them to allow the feeling to be there “I don’t like feeling sad either, let’s see if we can just watch what happens to the feeling”.
- Don’t – Encourage your child to ignore the feelings or avoid the feelings altogether.
Tips to support them and Move Forward:
- Do – Encourage the child to refocus their attention onto the next step in their day. Allow time to process but not so much they begin to dwell on the woes.
- Do – Move to helping, but only if they ask for it, or you see a need to. Perhaps say something like, “What do you think we can do about this?”
- Don’t – rush to solve the problem
Ensuring you are aware and alert to the emotional progress in your child is important, and they require your support and encouragement as they grow. You can find out more about Emotional Development of your children by having an assessment with a Psychologist who will provide you with guidance and strategies to reel in the whining, badgering and tantrums. Ask us how 02 8883 3185.
Written by Peta Williams – Clinical Psychologist Registrar – www.creatingchange.net.au