Lately, I’ve been learning a lot about how to support my kiddos in their emotional development. I tend to be detail oriented and delve into the complex nature of all their issues. But, sometimes, I just need to back up and keep it simple. So, I’ve distilled a lot of what I’ve been learning into three simple steps. When done in this order, they hit at the heart of supporting your child’s emotional needs.
As adults, there are emotions that we quickly recognize as over-reactions but your child doesn’t yet have that perspective. I know it’s really tempting to try moving him through his emotions as quickly as possible by giving him a quick hug or saying “It’s okay. You’ll be fine.” And, honestly, there are times when that’s all we can do. But, more often than not, we can take a minute or two to help him process. This starts by listening. Ask your child how he feels and then let him tell you. For older kids this can look like an open ended, “What’s going on, honey?” Younger children, however, usually respond best to questions such as, “Are you sad?”, or “Was that embarrassing?” These point blank questions help him land on the emotion that fits his situation, even if he didn’t have words for it before.
By truly listening to how your child is feeling, you’ll be able to empathize with him. Let your child know you understand. Feel with him for a few seconds. This is a moment for you to connect with your child. As you meet him in that moment you build trust. You show your child that you value who he is and what he is experiencing. You prove that you are there for him. You’ll probably need to use words to communicate your empathy as well. This is a step I struggle with. When my kiddo is emotional and I’m right there in the middle of it, I’m not great with words. To solve this, I started putting together a list of phrases I could use in these situations. Clearly, I don’t want a pat response, but they give me a place to start. Phrases such as, “I would be sad if ___________ happened to me too” have been invaluable. I’ll send you my top 10 if you’d like. Just put your email below and click. Then, check for the confirmation email.
This is my favorite part. This is the part I want to jump to right away. I’m a “doer” but that isn’t always what my kids need from me. Many times they just need the first two parts – the listening and the empathizing – and then they can do the “doing” on their own. However, once you’ve listened and empathized and can tell your kiddo still need help, it’s time to problem solve with him. Sometimes that means addressing the original issue, and sometimes it means exploring ways to express his current emotions. Addressing the original issue might look like, “What’s something you can say the next time your friend does that? Would you like to go say that right now?” Addressing the original issue usually means handling a problem that’s within your child’s control and finding a mutually agreeable solution for all parties involved. If, however, it’s a situation your child has no control over, problem solving will focus on appropriate ways he can express his emotions. That might look like this, “I’m sorry you feel left out. It can hurt when friends do something and don’t invite you. Here, grab your shoes. Let’s go for a walk and you can tell me about it.”
4. Free Empathy Resource
I’m going to be discussing this topic more in-depth in the next few weeks. You’re invited to listen in if you’d like. Just put your email below and click. I’ll share what I’m learning and let you know when I write something new. Oh, and I’ll send you the top 10 phrases right away.