Four Steps to Help Your Child Navigate Their Feelings
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
Disappointment can fly into your life like a line drive or creep up on you like a cheetah stalking her prey, but however it finds you, it stinks to deal with it, right? There are many adults who do not know how to successfully handle disappointments. Did someone teach you how to deal? Do you make everyone around you miserable when you don’t get your way or do you become quiet and withdrawn when life deviates from the plan?
Now imagine you have only been on the Earth for seven years, so how equipt can you be for handling life’s crushing blows? But those blows are a guaranteed part of life. The hits just keep coming.
As a parent, as a mom, are you preparing your child to handle life’s box of chocolates?
If you are anything like me, it is easy to forget what it was like for you at seven years old. I tend to bring my forty-year-old perspective and wisdom to my kids’ problems and that is a huge problem. Let me share a few examples of how I unknowingly most likely made them feel silly or abnormal and maybe you have made some of these same comments too. My wisdom says...
“There is no need to worry about that.”
“You won’t even remember what they said a week from now.”
“If they don’t want to play with you, it is their loss.”
But their hearts are only bringing a limited number of years to the situation and their hurts and disappointments are just as real as our disappointments when we are overlooked for a position at work or didn’t get invited to the big event.
Kids are headed back to school and while it is an exciting time for most kids, it can also be a stressful time for them as well. When kids go to school it is equivalent to us going out in the workplace where we must deal with all of life’s pressures and temptations. School is our kids’ training ground for learning how to successfully navigate the social conventions of the workplace later on in life.
This school year, I want to encourage you to think about the long game. How are your conversations preparing them to be a team player? A dedicated worker? A compassionate person?
While at first glance, my comments don’t seem all that bad, but they dismiss the validity of my own child’s feelings. I had a dear friend talk to me about how she was learning to simply listen to the problems of her older daughters without trying to offer advice. That advice must have made its way into my brain because thankfully I listened to it and ya’ll it works!
Over this last year, I have developed a new game plan for helping my kids when they are emotionally upset. These are the steps I am beginning to put into practice. You may have already figured this out, but I wasn't consistently practicing these steps and it makes a big difference in your relationship with your kids when you follow them.
Get them talking. Learning to listen more than we talk at them can prove difficult for parents, but giving them a safe space to vent their feelings is key. Before you offer any solutions or pretend to know what they are going through stop and listen. This is the hardest step especially if you are a natural talker.
Share a story from your own life. Works better if your story is embarrassing and makes your kids laugh at your own stupidity when you were their age, but a story from last week works just as good too. Be relatable. They need to know they aren’t the only ones who suffer from whatever is ailing them.
Name your child's emotions for them. Often they don’t even know exactly what they are feeling. Naming it will help them recognize it again when it rears its ugly head next time.
Share strategies for dealing/coping. Give them practical ways they can handle it next time. Resit the urge to take charge and make it go away for them...even if it is in your power to fix it. Long game...remember! You want them to become more independent.
This is the story of the time when I lucked up and followed these steps without knowing what I was doing. This moment helped me see I needed to start adding to my parenting toolbox instead of just giving the same old worn-out “get over it” speech.
Let me set the scene for you. About a year ago Claire was getting ready to attend a fabulous birthday party that Caroline was not invited too. I noticed Caroline was not herself. She got really quiet and disappeared upstairs. I go after her with every intention of telling her pouting was not the answer and was unacceptable in the Hastings household.
When I walk in her room, I don’t even see her. It is like she disappeared. I followed her into her room so I know she is in there somewhere. I look around and she is in between her bed and the wall with her body face down. (I realize she is taking it harder than I thought) My friend's advice about listening comes to mind and I decide to give it a try. Only she won’t talk. So, I begin telling her a story about me and how disappointed I got the previous week when I felt I had been left out. In the middle of my story, she climbs into the bed beside me and snuggles into my side.
“So Caroline, unfortunately, disappointment is a big part of life. It never really goes away. I’d like to tell you when you are my age, you never get disappointed anymore, but that would be a huge lie.” (As I listen to myself, I am beginning to worry this pep talk is going south and sounding very depressing.) I peek at her and she is taking in my words.
“The good news is...you get a little better at handling life’s disappointments and you know they are just feelings that don’t last forever.”
I wait for her response.
She leans in and hugs me. “Thank you, mom.”
It was like magic! All the yuck was gone from her face and she was at peace.
This was a game-changer for me. I realized I don’t have to solve all their problems, I just have to care and listen. Here are the benefits of this approach as opposed to my old “be tough” method.
They will feel valued. Sometimes it really does help for someone to just hear you and really see what you are feeling and going through.
Trust begins to grow. I want my kids to be able to come to me with the big issues, but it starts now with how I handle their hearts when they talk about the little things that aren’t quite so little in their world.
Life-long skills are developed. Learning to communicate and deal with your emotions can be a deciding factor in a peaceful life or one filled with strife.
Your conversations will live in their heads. The next time Caroline gets disappointed because she wasn’t picked by the teacher or some girls didn’t invite her to play their game at recess, she might remember our talk. She will be more apt to bounce back knowing these feelings won’t last forever and everyone deals with disappointment from time to time. She isn't the only one.
I know these aren't Earth shattering new steps, but for me it helps having a game plan spelled out. In the moment it can be easy for me to fall back into my default mode (expect them to get over it and not deal with the root issue). Dealing with the root cause is preventive medicine.
I know many of you teachers out there will have kids in your room where maybe they might need a little help sorting out their feelings. I hope this plan can help you be calm in the midst of all the crazy situations you deal with as a teacher. I once had a child wait until another child got up and then she put glue in her seat hoping the little girl would sit down in it when she came back. I would love to go back in time and find out more about what was going through sneaky Sara's mind. Hopefully, she had a wiser teacher the next year to intervene. Be the wise teacher, try to get the bottom of their actions. Be the parent that values conversation over monologue.
Have a great school year!