7. Managing Emotions
Parents should not ignore or simply silence their children when they act out or are overcome with emotion. They should work with them on strategies for coping and discuss how they can more calmly and productively express their emotions.
How to help our children to control their emotions
Our emotions are a part of who we are: we have to learn to manage and accept them. In order to help children manage their emotions, we must set limits (for example, by forbidding them to waste food or lie). However, setting limits on their behavior does not mean setting limits on their feelings.
We cannot stop children from getting angry even if they are forbidden from acting on that anger rather we can coach children in controlling their reactions. Sending them to their rooms to calm down will not prevent them from being upset and frustrated. On the contrary, by conveying to them the idea that they must face their emotions alone, we encourage them to repress their feelings. When children repress their emotions, they can no longer manage them consciously, which means they are liable to resurface at any moment.
An angry child is not a bad person, but a hurt person. When children lose control over their emotions, it is because they are overwhelmed.
These outbursts, when our children seem to have totally lost control of themselves, can frighten us as parents. Indeed, if children habitually repress their emotions, they become unable to express them verbally and rage takes over.
Failing to acknowledge children’s emotions can prevent them from learning to exercise self-control.
Advice: How do children learn to manage their emotions?
Children learn from us. When we yell, they learn to yell. When we speak respectfully, they learn to speak respectfully. Likewise, every time we manage to control our emotions in front of our children, they learn how to regulate their own emotions.
To help children manage their emotions, we should explicitly explain how to do so and discuss it with them.
Even older children need to feel a connection with their parents to manage their emotions. When we notice our children having difficulties controlling their emotions, it is important to reconnect with them. When children feel cared for and important, they become more cooperative and their feelings of joy cancel out bad behavioral traits.
The best way to help children become autonomous is to trust them and to entrust them with tasks and little challenges.
An angry child is not a bad person, but a hurt person. When children lose control over their emotions, it is because they are overwhelmed. Controlling their emotions is beyond their capacities at that particular moment in time and emotional control is something that they’ll build gradually as they mature.
If we continue treating them with compassion, our children will feel safe enough to express their emotions. If we help them to cry and let out their emotions, these feelings of being overwhelmed will go away, along with their anger and aggression.
Is it important to teach children specific language for expressing emotions?
Of course it is! But don’t try to force children to voice their emotions. Instead, focus on accepting their emotions. This will teach them that:
There is nothing wrong with emotions—they enrich human life.
Even if we can’t control everything in life, we can still choose how we react and respond.
When we are comfortable with our emotions, we feel them deeply, and then they pass. This gives us the sensation of letting go and of releasing tension.
If we actively teach these lessons—and continue to work on resolving our own emotions—we will be happy to find that our children will learn to manage their feelings. It will eventually become second nature to them.
Case Study 6