Meltdowns, temper tantrums, and emotional breakdowns are all factors that we as parents have been taught to accept as an everyday occurrence for our toddlers and young children. While it is common for us to react with “Go to time out!” or “Calm down!”, it is important to realize that children’s brains are still developing and how they process emotions such as anger or sadness is simply the only way they know. That is why it is our job to teach these young minds better, healthier ways to express how they are feeling inside and more effective ways to handle these emotions.
What We Have Been Doing Wrong
For so many years, there was little to no psychological research on the subject of the mental health of children and how parents play a huge role in the way children process their emotions. Now, with the rise of awareness of certain occurrences such as child depression, anxiety, and violence, it is now more important than ever to explore these effects and look at what is causing all of these internal troubles within our youth.
We have known for many years now that children watch their parents (or adult figures) and model their own behavior based on what they see. It is easy to tell children how they should act, but it is essential to show children how to express their emotions in a positive way. This requires some self-reflection on our part. Now that we have precious eyes watching our every move, it is important to lead the way and guide them into self-expression and to do this, we must first note how we process our own emotions, especially during times of stress.
Identify Stress-Inducing Situations In Your Children’s Life
Situations that seem irrelevant or minor to us often have a big impact on our children’s lives. For example, we may tell a child that they cannot have two pieces of cake because we are concerned with our child’s health, teeth, etc. However, in a young child’s mind, the only thing they notice happening is they have a strong desire for a particular thing and it is being withheld from them. Think about things in your life that you strongly desire, but cannot have or do. This is stressful for adults, but even more so for young children who don’t understand the logic or reasoning behind an adult’s actions. Instead of simply telling our children “No” and sending them off, try explaining to a child that too much cake is bad for their tummy and may cause a tummy ache. By introducing them to cause and effect, they will begin to better understand that their parents aren’t simply being mean, but trying to help them.
Educate Your Children On What Is Going On In Their Brain
The most frustrating thing for anyone is wanting to express our emotions, but not knowing exactly how to describe exactly what we are feeling. Children experience this on a daily basis.
It is a great tactic to educate children on what exactly their brain is doing and why it may be hard for them to express themselves in ways other than anger. While psychology may be hard for a young child to grasp, there are ways to simplify these happenings and put them in a way a child can better understand.
In the book The Whole-Brain Child, Dr. Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson introduce a new way of explaining the brain to young children. The concept is that the brain is like a two-story house, upstairs being the “thinking” or logic brain, downstairs being the “feeling” or emotional brain. This can be a playful way to get kids interested and involved in understanding the neuroscience of their emotions. Helping our children understand where their feelings originate will better help them manage the strong emotions that they experience. For example, the “thinking” part of our brain is in charge of problem-solving, creativity, decision making, and planning. The “feeling” part of the brain manages emotions such as anger, sadness, excitement, and fear. Typically, these parts work together to tell us how to act and react to situations in our daily lives. However, when we are faced with stress, our feelings may override our logic and decision-making process while taking complete control of our actions.
By teaching children to think in this way, it becomes easier for them to recognize what part of their brain is leading the ship when faced with difficult circumstances. When they can identify these emotions, they can better control them. By using the brain house method, it becomes easier for children that the “downstairs” part of their brain has taken over and we can suggest ways to use their “upstairs” brain instead. This simplifies the conversation and allows a young child to process what is taking place in their brain.
After we have identified the emotions, it is now important to help our children find healthy coping methods for these feelings. Every child is different, so be prepared for a lot of trial and error when finding effective techniques to deal with these strong emotions. What works for one child, may or may not work for another. Patience is definitely key when it comes to mindful parenting and we have to constantly be willing to lead the way for our children. Emotional breakdowns and longer have to be something we accept as a normal part of parenthood. With research, experimenting with what works, and patience, we can teach our children how to healthily manage their emotions and create a positive change in their lives, present and future.