In our busy, modern world it is VERY tempting for us as parents to try to sweep our children’s emotions away. Instinctive responses such as ‘you’ll be fine’, ‘there’s no point worrying about it’ or ‘well, you’re good at this subject aren’t you so the exam will be easy’, often leave our mouths before we’ve realised and come from a place of wanting our children to be ok.
It can also be extremely difficult for us emotionally when our child is overwhelmed. We are often unconsciously triggered emotionally, whether that be because of our own past experiences or because we are tired and have an ‘empty tolerance cup’. After a busy day at work, you are likely to become emotionally triggered if, at 6PM the night before the exam, your child comes to you upset and worried. You would certainly not be alone if you rolled your eyes in frustration and exasperatedly said, “And now you tell me!’' Or wearily yawned 'You’ll be fine” and sent them to bed with a ruffle of the hair.
What our children really need from us in their emotionally challenging moments is to feel understood. When we try to sweep them on through their feelings at speed, we may get some short-term relief from the discomfort of being around a child with big feelings. I get it. Sometimes the crying, whining or the general energy that emotions bring (the tween door slam gives me an instant tense, tight jaw!) is just too much. But if we always brush them away or try to fix the issue, children can sense our discomfort of big emotions. This becomes a missed opportunity to develop emotional intelligence and teach them healthy habits. Rushing our children through big emotions or ‘fixing’ the issue teaches our children to suppress, avoid or use other unhealthy habits to cope with their big emotions. It can also lead to feelings of shame around experiencing challenging emotions.
Although difficult and requiring our own self growth, our children need us to show them that it’s OK to sit with big feelings, accept them and become curious. Reassuringly, research shows that even doing this just some of the time is effective, which gives us some space to be human!
It’s important to remember that pushing feelings away tends to lead to them popping back up with increased force! Repeatedly! The more we can support our children in these moments the more their emotional intelligence will grow. Big feelings will settle when children feel listened to and understood, even if the reason for their emotions seem nonsensical to us.
One question that can help in a challenging emotional moment is to ask your child,
“What do you need?”.
“What do you need?”.
A simple, powerful question! With just these four words you can:
Try it next time and see what happens!
We may even hear ourselves saying things our own parents said! I often experience moments that are almost like outer body experiences on my conscious parenting journey; hearing myself say things, whilst my inner wise self shakes her head disapprovingly.
When our children are asked closed questions such as “Are you OK?” or “What’s wrong?” they are very likely to respond in angry, frustrated tones because their nervous system is in stress mode, which means they’re not thinking clearly. They may be experiencing negative thoughts or cognitive distortions which are causing them to feel disconnected and fuelling their emotional state. If you were feeling upset and someone asked, “Are you OK?”, you might automatically experience thoughts popping up such as a sarcastic “Do I look OK?!, or “What a stupid question?”, or “If you don’t know what’s wrong already, leave me alone?”. Using the right language can take the moment in which our child is struggling in an entirely different direction. A direction that feels good for both us and our children whilst also helping them make progress in terms of emotional development and problem solving.
So, how do we encourage our children to open up and talk, instead of both them and us feeling furious and disconnected? It’s actually simpler than we realise! We have a tendency to overcomplicate things and an urge to ‘fix’ our unhappy child which can result in our almost panicked “What’s wrong?”. This can feel like pressure to a child who may not quite know what’s wrong or at least not know how to articulate it. It also gives an impression (which may or may not be the case) that you’re uncomfortable with their emotions. Instead, we can draw them into a space that invites curiosity and discussion by stating our observations. Pause, observe and tell your child what you’re seeing in their facial expression and body language.
“I’ve noticed your shoulders look tense.”
“I can see your smile is gone.”
Reflecting these observations back to our children helps them to become more deeply in tune with how their feelings are experienced in their body. It also helps them to feel SEEN and sense that their emotions are safe with you. This is a solid starting point to actually start talking about how they feel before exploring triggers and solutions. This is the language that builds emotional intelligence.
From this simple starting point of reflecting your child’s physicality back to them, you will notice that their body language shifts a little as they move their focus to it. You will also notice the atmosphere softens as they become more open to conversation because they feel understood. The key at this point is to maintain that gentleness and curiosity. If you need to encourage them to talk, use a phrase such as “Tell me more”. This gives permission for the feelings to be whatever they are, without judgement.
Remember, our goal as parents is to support our children to navigate all emotions.
Our Kids Den resources support you to have meaningful conversations with your child. Check out the range here.
Our knowledge around the way we parent and the impact that has on our children's mental health and wellbeing has grown rapidly in recent years. Thanks to advances in the world of psychology, we have a greater collective understanding of how our own emotional intelligence effects our children. Research shows that parents who have a greater depth of self awareness and an ability to emotionally regulate themselves are more likely to raise emotionally intelligent children.
During my own learning and personal growth, prompted by becoming a parent, I've discovered that it's crucial to perceive parenting as a relationship rather than a job to do. The connection we have with our children, I believe, is the channel through which we can embed the foundations they need for a life of emotional health and happiness.
Here's my favourite quotes to inspire a parenting approach that places connection at it's heart!
How we feel about our kids isn't as important as how they experience those feelings and how they regard the way we treat them.
A strong emotional connection to at least one adult is the best buffer from trauma that we can give our children.
The parent-child connection is the most powerful mental health intervention known to humanity.
~Bessel Van Der Kolk~
As children develop, their brains “mirror” their parent’s brain. In other words, the parent’s own growth and development, or lack of those, impact the child’s brain. As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well.
Looking for more in-depth support on parenting and child emotional wellbeing. Click here to visit our parenting resource section The Mama Haven
My child's first day of High School made me feel like an awkward teenager again and why I'm at peace with the discomfort.
My child started secondary school. All Summer there's been excitement and countdowns, ending with the normal butterflies in the stomach in the final days of the holidays, before the big moment arrived. I'd prepared her, ironed her uniform, filled her shiny new pencil case with biros and batted away most 'what if' questions like a seasoned parenting pro. But what I wasn't prepared for, was the rearing of all my teenage high school trauma. It hit me out of the blue when tears fell from eyes after a long, overwhelming first day. What she experienced in those first 'rabbit in the headlights' days was normal. No one was mean to her. Nothing terrible happened. She even enjoyed much of it. Her highly sensitive soul simply needed to release built up emotions and process so much change in this huge milestone moment. But suddenly, whilst holding her, I stepped into the shoes of my awkward tween self and was flooded with feelings of self doubt, intense self consciousness and high anxiety. I remember the fear like it was yesterday and my heart broke. I thought it was for her. It wasn't. My heart broke for my teenage self.
To be at our best for our children, and support their experiences through their lens takes intuitive reflection and a level of self awareness. When we become emotionally reactive to our children's experiences it's helpful to ask ourselves why and be brave enough to go there. Even just being aware of why is an important and substantial step in itself. So, as I coach her through this challenging rite of passage, I'm also coaching my inner teenage self. These are some of the steps I'm taking:
As Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, do better." So it's OK. My early secondary journey felt difficult, but I'm at peace with that because the journey led to here. Today, where I'm parenting differently for my daughter. Where I've been guiding and teaching her for years so that she is far braver, stronger and more resilient than I was at this point in my own life. It led to now, where we're parenting a generation that will know themselves and what to do when challenges arise.
Emotion coaching is process by which we can support our child's emotional intelligence. It's a fabulous parenting tool with proven benefits for emotional health.
Emotion Coaching isn't magic wand! It takes time to see the results and effort from parents to implement. However, working on our personal development and growing as a parent so that we can become our children's emotion coaches brings huge positive outcomes for the whole family. Not only do we heal and become happier, but our children are more likely to be successful, resilient and emotionally intelligent individuals. Furthermore, our connection with our children is stronger and our relationships benefits.
If you find this is the case, you can choose to work on responding over reaction and learn to be an active listener. It's perfectly OK to find this hard because you probably weren't taught how when you were a child! If you're interested in learning more you can discover how to implement emotion coaching in more detail through our downloadable 35 page Emotion Coaching Parenting Workbook, which you can find in the For Mama shop.
What if the fear of your child lacking self-esteem is leading you to a response that tries to make your child feel OK by telling them they’ve done well, rather than guiding them to discover and believe that themselves? A response that helps you feel better in the moment but doesn’t build foundations of resilience for your child.
It’s easily done. And it ‘feels’ like the right response in the moment. But what if I told you that you didn’t always have to panic respond with a, “but that’s brilliant, darling” when your child clearly doesn’t think it is? How would that feel? Liberating?
We need to accept as mothers, that there will be times our children lack confidence in themselves and that our job is to teach them resilience skills and guide them, not fix it for them. To do this we need to free ourselves from using our children’s emotional ups and downs as a measure of how good a job we are doing. A good mother and a child with emotional struggles are not mutually exclusive. When we instinctively react to smooth the moment over, we're actually reacting to soothe ourselves under the illusion we're helping our children. Like a mama bear in protect mode, hearing negative words that sound destructive and damaging coming from the mouth of someone we love more than life itself, feels like facing our worst nightmares. It hurts.
Taking a moment to read the situation is a skill, but one we can all learn. And those moments of pause can reduce our parenting anxiety and support our child at the same time. Let me tell you what I mean ...
For a long time dads were a distant figure for children, even when living in the same home. A father was somebody who was out all day working and was to be left to rest on their return. A passive parent, leaving raising children to the mother, unless punishment was deemed necessary. Their traditional role was 'breadwinner', providing financially for the family. But the passing of time has seen change. The modern family looks different these days, with a variety of family set ups and mothers often contributing in a significant way financially. Research on child development and in the field of psychology has given us an emerging picture on parenting approaches and the true impact fathers have on children, from the quality of their sperm to the age of 18.
Research is changing the perception of fatherhood. Conscious parents are redefining the role of dad. Because the studies are clearly suggesting that when it comes to emotional health in children dads do matter.
We need to talk about partners and parenting in partnership.
It’s hard to find common ground when it comes to parenting our children with our partners. The differences you and your partner had in childhood significantly impacts the approach that each of you take now. We are all heavily influenced by our own upbringing and the tendency is to repeat the parenting we experienced. The key is to decide what parenting we want our own children to experience, but that of course takes an element of awakening. I have many friends who make a great couple but parenting is the one area that causes many 'discussions'. Whispers of, "It never did me any harm," marking the end of many. When of course it probably did on some level. Add in personality or tolerance levels, and even if you’ve got similar parenting values, applying them in reality may not always make for the dreamy family life you envisioned. Familiar? ⠀⠀
In our home we are, fortunately, on the same wavelength. But despite being probably the most level, smartest person I’ve ever met, my husband turns to me when he doesn’t know how to handle a situation with the kids. Or THINKS he can’t. Even when he can. In our home the difference in our parenting approach comes down to our individual tolerance levels. We are both introverts, but my husband struggles more with too much sensory stimulation (loud kids with big emotions stresses his nervous system!). BUT, here’s the thing. Sometimes I don’t have the answer. Or my mum tank has been drained and I’m out of mum energy. Or I’m just trying to do my own thing for 5 mins without interruption!! ⠀⠀
It can feel like there is no real option for in that scenario. It can feel like a lose-lose situation for the parent who usually has more tolerance or a gentler mindset when it comes to parenting. For that parent it either can feel like you have to step up and find the reserves, taking what feels like more from yourself than your body and mind can really handle, or let the kids down. When I talk to friends and my instagram community, you tell me you feel the same. You feel overwhelmed in those moments where in a split second you see your two paths playing out ahead of you: find that bit extra, even though you’re so overstimulated by everyone else’s needs, or lose it. Letting out all your own stuff in big, hot, angry ways for a brief moment of relief, shortly followed by your child’s crumpled face and a tsunami of guilt. ⠀⠀
Compromise and personal development for both parents means one person doesn’t use up everything in their reserve tank before they’ve had time to refuel. This means creating a joint approach; talking through ideals and values to find a common ground, agreeing on approaches to regular issues, agreeing to back each other up and not undermine and stepping in for the other if you can see your partner struggling.
Share the load. And I mean the emotional one. It’s not down to one parent to do all the parenting. ⠀⠀
Hey! I'm the founder, creator and voice of Ink and Scribbles. Sharing thoughts on child well-being and parenting that are based on my teaching and parenting experience, and NLP learning.