Big Emotions are an everyday reality for mothers with toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary aged kids. Here are some strategies to help teach your child about emotions and how to cope.
“You’re acting crazy!” my son said to me.
“I am,” I replied, “you are right.”
See… that’s a family term around here for when Big Emotions take us over. That we’re “acting crazy.” It’s not used as an insult or put down, but a term to describe frustration, pitching fits, whining, or just being all over the place.
Perhaps I could have used a more PC term, but there you have it.
Big Emotions can make kids think a lot of things:
- that if they get in trouble you’re mad at them or don’t love them (not true)
- that they’ll never get to do the thing they want to do (not true)
- that letting another sibling go first means you favor them (not true)
- that life isn’t fair (basically true)
Let’s come back to one of my beloved phrases on emotions by Elizabeth Gilbert…
Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.
Of course, we don’t have to be slaves to our emotions, but emotions are powerful things and, if we don’t understand them or where they come from, we can feel thrown to and fro by the wind. Our children moreso since they are little. This is why it’s a good idea to teach emotional intelligence to your kids.
How to Talk to Your Kids About Emotions
So if you have kids who are frequently melting down, pushing the boundaries, or reaching out of proportion, this is for you.
Talk in Times of Non Conflict
The worst time to try and teach your children about emotions is when they are flipping out. If they’re on the floor kicking and screaming, you are not going to be able to break through and talk rationally.
This is true with adults as well. This is why, in the moment, you don’t have to make them feel better. You can just let the feel.
The best time to teach kids about and how to process their emotions is during a peaceful time when tension is not high. Then, with enough talk, they’ll be able to access your teaching when they need it. The other night at 7:30 p.m. after a long day my son was acting very very out of control.
Finally, as he threw his John Deere tractor in his toy bag, he said dramatically, “I’m acting so crazy because I’m soooo tired.”
I get it, son. Moms get tired too.
Play a Game, Read a Book, or Get Creative
The other morning during a calm spell we took out their new Moodster toys (from Toys ‘R Us). One was The Moodsters Feelings Notebook with crayons. This was a hit that day and has been ever since. They even colored on it during church.
The idea is that kids can journal their feelings or get them out on paper. I asked my son to draw what anger looked like to him and he made a big lightning bolt.
We used this activity as a way to talk about each of the particular feelings in the notebook (happy, sad, loving, angry, and afraid) and what might cause those feelings.
I’m not saying we had a Renaissance Worthy Philosophical Talk, but the kids engaged and I could tell they understood.
The other thing the kids have been carrying around is the red doll, Razzy, above. When squeezed it says things like, “I’m really angry!” It helps normalize emotions. When I told my son it was okay to be angry he wanted to talk more.
Does getting angry get you in trouble?
Can you do anything when you’re angry?
Is being angry reason to hit or stab your sibling with a plastic IKEA fork?
The Talking Plush character goes along with a sticker book you can do during structured activity time. It has an accompanying book that opens the conversation for a lot of topics on emotions.
I truly believe the more you normalize emotions and talk about them, the less power they have over you. Both for mamas and kiddos.
Don’t Overreact or Take it Personal
Mothers tend to take their children’s behavior personally. As though our children’s every move is a reflection of our worthy or value as a parent. It is not. Kids do things they want to do when they want to do them and sometimes (basically all the time) it has nothing to do with us.
Of course we have the duty and privilege to give our children boundaries and teach them about life. Naturally, good parenting produces good fruit and “bad parenting” produces bad fruit. But no matter what type of mother you are, your children will do Weird Stuff because they are their own people.
Knowing this will allow you to keep a grip on your emotions so you don’t join into the meltdown fray.
Watch Yourself and Be an Example
I love using myself as an example to my kids. And some days, boy, we have a lot of good Teaching Moments. I don’t pretend to be Aemotional. I have feelings. They are strong.
I am a Type A mom and my kids know it.
I make frustrated noises and say things like, “Why doesn’t technology just flipping work??!!! Why???!!!” The kids know that I think emoting is okay.
Not sharing emotions in a way that hurts others. Not shaming others or causing them to feel bad about themselves. But being a reasonable person who has real emotions and tries to deal with them healthily. The kids will learn by observing with you and doing life in your family.
You have to teach kids by example, not just with words. More is caught than taught.
Make it a Part of Normal Life
Around here we make emotions part of normal life. This is the key to raising kids who don’t have completely overflowing emotional basements. They need to know it’s okay to be who they are, but they still need to be respectful.
That it’s alright to Feel All the Feels, but that doesn’t mean they can just do what they want.
In fact, it’s good to remind them and ourselves that sometimes frustration turns us into better adults. Self-control is taught and caught by teaching our children to understand what they feel, why they feel it, and how best to respond.
Even when they’re going nuts.
Even when you’re going nuts.
These are, as they say, Teachable Moments.