With so much going on in the world today, we could all benefit from an emotional coping skills tune-up — especially our children. While smaller in stature, kids feel big emotions and are new to navigating them.
That said, sometimes it’s difficult to know what our children really internalize and what they’re feeling. Sometimes emotional stressors don’t transfer into daily life until our kiddos pass the breaking point and lay in tears on the kitchen floor.
The key is to talk about, demonstrate and teach emotional coping skills on a regular basis.
So how to do we best support our children during turbulent times? Here are some emotional coping techniques to help work through all the feels.
Create a safe spot.
Designate a special area where it’s always safe for kids to share what’s going on and what they’re feeling. Parents can listen closely (and only speak when necessary) when kids are ready to talk in the safe spot. Hint: Parents can help children get it all out by frequently using these three words, "Tell me more."
When feelings elevate in intensity, invite peace into the home by turning on calming background music, lowering the lights and/or providing a comforting blanket or toy. Parents can talk in quiet, slow voices as they guide children through deep, restorative breaths – long inhales that fill the lungs and tummy and slow exhales that release tension.
Putting feelings into words helps lessen the intensity of those feelings. It’s also helpful to have children identify and describe where the feelings show up in their body, and what the sensations feel like. For example, if a child says they feel sad, ask if they feel can feel the sadness in their head, heart, lungs, stomach, etc. Then find out what it feels like for them. Does it feel tight? Does it throb? Labeling emotions and the physical sensations associated with them can take the fear out of the feelings.
Control your emotions.
Humorist Erma Bombeck wrote, "When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen. When they’re finished, I climb out." Though parents might want to hide from feeling fiascos, children need an understanding adult’s support. Throwing our own tantrums won’t help. What will help is a composed, supportive and unconditionally loving parent who can serve as a guide through the emotionally wild ride of life.
Even kids love to cat cow! Sure, yoga can increase flexibility, strength and body coordination, but it also builds emotional health. Great for all ages, yoga involves deep breathing practices and managing moods through movement.
Allow time to cool down and dig deep.
If an outburst of feelings occurs, it’s okay to provide time for emotions to settle down before discussing the situation. And remember, the true reason for the outburst may not be visible on the surface. In fact, the child may not even recognize why he/she flipped out. So once things cool off, try having a heart-to-heart by asking open-ended questions that will reveal the root of the problem.
Many more coping tools exist, and each child will connect with certain strategies better than others. Plus, just like in a diverse toolbox, particular coping tools will prove most useful while working on specific feelings. So, introduce a variety of tactics and discover which ones aid your child best in different scenarios.
As we practice and implement coping skills on a consistent basis within our families, our children will have the capabilities to develop healthy emotional habits that will serve them throughout their lifetimes.