When a child has an outburst, tantrum, or feels misunderstood, big feelings appear. When that happens a parent can feel like all eyes are on her and her child. Feelings are messy, loud, and take time to flesh out and resolve. Most parents go right into “control” mode when their child is having an outburst or big feelings. They want to shut the feelings down and return to “normal” life.
The truth is feelings are “normal” life.
No parent can change the fact that their child has “big” feelings and reactions. Feelings and reactions are one way a child learns, it’s just how it goes. Does that mean parents have lost all control? No, of course not.
What parents can do is change how they deal with feelings. Parents can move from controlling feelings to exploring them and helping their child release them.
In order to make that switch I suggest you begin by honestly looking at the amount of control you use when it comes to feelings. Begin by asking yourself a few questions.
• Are you uncomfortable talking about feelings?
• Do you think your need for peace and quiet is more important than your child’s need to express herself?
• Do you want to run away and hide when your child expresses big feelings?
• Do you tend to clamp down on the feelings and behavior hoping to stop them at all costs?
If you said yes to any of the above, then you might be attempting to control your child’s feelings and behavior. I can hear some of you now, “Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?’ My explanation comes in the form of an unrelated example, and you’ll need your imagination for this one.
Imagine that you put one of those large yoga balls into a swimming pool. It floats on the surface of the pool and can quickly get away from you, just like feelings.
In order to control the ball you have to push down, using a great deal of pressure to keep it steady. If there’s any movement in the water the ball will most likely skirt out from under you because of the pressure you’re using to try to control it.
However, if you place one finger lightly on the yoga ball, it’s easy to move along side of it and stay connected to it. If any movement occurs in the water it’s easy to guide the ball to a calm, safe place where you can wait for things to settle down.
It’s obvious that the ball represents a child’s feelings, and the water represents the circumstances that cause outburst, tantrums, and big feelings.
You can see that if you try and control the ball/ the child’s feelings, the situation can get away from you pretty quickly. However, if you allow the ball/ child’s feelings to flow and be released you can stay connected and help guide your child to a better way to handle things.
Feelings are not going to go away. Releasing them is the key to understanding yourself and dealing with what life throws at you. As W. Mitchell says, “It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it.”
Here are 3 things to help you stay connected when you’re dealing with feelings.
A child’s feelings are his feelings. He needs to experience them so he can realize that they can be resolved. He can’t do that if you are talking instead of listening.
Don’t make accusations; ask questions, even if you know the answers. Questions force a child to look inside for the answer and teach a child the process to resolving issues. Your child is still a child and won’t be able to resolve things like you do until she gets older. But now is the time to introduce the concept that the answer lives inside of you.
Ask your child to repeat what they heard
This allows you to hear what your child heard and make any corrections if needed.
Sharon Silver is a parenting educator and the founder of Proactive Parenting. She's also the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be.
Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and the Skills e-class. Go to proactiveparenting.net to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.