Helping Your Child with Big Emotions

big emotions
Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts, Sheridan House Family Ministries

We have talked about the fact that in parenting the days may feel long but the years go by so quickly. We have but a few summers with our children before they are off to college, 13 or less to be exact, where we can be intentional to pour into our children. We can use these months to give them memories as a family, with intentional fun together and vacations, but we can also use these moments to train. One of these areas we can focus on is handling big emotions. We may have more time to observe these moments if we are spending more time together and inevitable sibling frustrations ensue. In other words, you may observe frustration, disappointment or jealousy acted out in inappropriate behavior, for example, hitting.

Big emotions, different teachers

Yesterday’s child learned how to deal with emotions by observing family members. Children today learn how to express their emotions from many different “teachers.” Screens, social media, YouTube, peers and video games are just a few of the instructors of today’s child. (Intentional or not, handling emotions is part of the WWE curriculum.)
Anger itself is an acceptable emotion. The Bible tells us to “Be angry, and yet do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26, NAS). Anger, in and of itself, is not the issue. We need to teach our children that emotions are valuable, but they need to be expressed in a godly fashion. That takes training!

Seek the best teachers

First, parents must seek the best possible teachers for their children. Teaching children to handle their emotions properly begins with an analysis of what or who the child is learning from. Parents should eliminate “voices” of input that are not good teachers. You, as an adult, might be able to correctly handle and filter through certain things imputed through various screens but your very impressionable child cannot.

Model mature behavior

Second, take a look at the way you manifest your own emotions. As a parent, are you prone to outbursts, or do you shut down and suppress your emotions? Choose to use your own handling of emotions as a training tool. Take the time to model this behavior. If you are frustrated and are overly harsh for example, model apologizing. Also communicate if something has hurt your feelings. This statement is not made to illicit guilt from your child, but rather to give him an example of how to properly express his emotions. “When you said this, it made me feel ____. I don’t think that is what you meant. What if you said it this way.” Choose to model emotional maturity.

Set boundaries

Third, set boundaries for improperly expressed emotions. When a child throws a temper tantrum, shut down the world and work through the situation.
There is an infamous story from when I was a toddler…
“When our daughter Torrey was three years old, Rosemary took her along to the grocery store. Torrey grabbed a bag of cookies and began to put them in the cart. Rosemary promptly took the cookies from Torrey’s hands, put them back on the shelf and told her that we would not be buying the cookies. At this point, Torrey arched her back and let out a pain-pealing scream! When she would not stop screaming, Rosemary gently took her out of the cart, grabbed her purse, left the groceries in the cart and walked to the car with Torrey.
When they got to the car, Rosemary strapped the screaming three-year-old into her seat, got in the car and sat… and sat… and sat. After a few minutes, Torrey calmed down and realized that they had not left the parking lot. At this point Rosemary told Torrey that they were going to finish their shopping and that they were not going to buy the cookies. Rosemary asked Torrey “are you ready to go back into the store, and are you ready to stop crying?” When Torrey responded in the affirmative, Rosemary got out of the car, picked Torrey up and held her until they returned to their cart.
The minute Torrey saw those cookies, she started screaming. Once again, Rosemary took Torrey out of the cart, walked out of the store to the car and strapped her into the car seat. Torrey continued to cry, but again she eventually calmed down. By the third time they went back into the store Torrey realized that she was not going to win… and she gave up screaming.
This scenario has nothing to do with cookies. If a parent believes it is about the prize of the cookies, they will cave in and give the child the cookies. This had everything to do with the handling of the child’s emotion of anger. It was a great teaching opportunity. Rosemary called my office when she finally returned home to tell me that she had just finished an exhausting three hours of grocery shopping. Exhausting, yes! Worth it, absolutely!”
I observed a dad with a little girl once at a mall. She was having a complete meltdown. He patiently sat on the floor and waited. He did not give in to her impulse but didn’t react out of embarrassment either. He sat and unemotionally waited until she was at a point to work it through.

Talk about their feelings

Fourth, do what caregivers do not have the time to do. Sit with your child and talk with them about their feelings. After the child’s temper tantrum has been dealt with, talk to them about alternative solutions to their emotions.
Sit on the side of their bed at night and talk to the child about something you know has hurt their feelings that day. Never trivialize the event they are talking about. There is something magical about being listened to. While listening to my children express their feelings of peer rejection and failure, I would ask God for the wisdom and the right words to say. When you think the child is ready, talk to him about a proper response to their emotion. Sometimes we would role-play so they could practice how to respond.
When it comes to handling emotions, your child needs to know that you love them no matter what happens, but they need to know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behavior. They need to be in a home that permits them to talk about their emotions.
Why is this important? The proper expression of emotions is one of the most missing elements in the marriage relationship. Screens instead of parents are doing the training. Impact your child’s marriage by helping them mature emotionally.

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