How Can You Help With Big Emotions ?
Summer is in full swing, and for many, that means taking time off from work and doing some traveling or even having a stay-at-home vacation. While we may step away from our duties at our place of employment, vacation means more time with family and more demands on our role as parents. With both parents and children out of their routine, this deviation from the daily schedule can cause some Big Emotions.
When children are just beginning to acquire language, adults have an important role to play as they narrate the action. Parents can explain what's happening and also what will happen next. Even when young children don't completely understand the narrative, they profit from a calm and confident caregiver who sends the message that they are in charge and that everything is going to be okay.
This narration is especially important when young children experience Big Emotions, and by that, I mean strong emotional reactions such as fear, anxiety, frustration, and disappointment. The reaction may include crying and lashing out at those around them. Parents can give these emotions a name and send a message that it is okay to feel them. If a child is afraid, the adult can let them know that everyone feels that way sometimes, but that they are there to keep their child safe. Back in the seventies, there was a wonderful song from the children's album "Free to Be, You and Me" with this line in it, "it's all right to cry, crying gets the sad out." If however, these feelings get the best of a child and include a meltdown, parents can provide the calm needed to weather the storm.
In most cases, it's best to wait until the Big Emotions pass and to revisit the events that provoked the drama. Taking the time after the fact, to have a conversation about what a child was feeling goes a long way to support them and the development of their coping skills. Even with very young children, parents can plant the seeds of reflection. Words like scared, frustrated, and disappointed can be introduced. By giving feelings a name, we are helping children to build an emotional vocabulary. After helping children to name feelings, caregivers can help children plan for what happens the next time these big feelings appear.
What doesn't seem to work is an adult trying to talk a child out of what they are feeling. This less than constructive approach appears to escalate the situation and often creates frustration on both sides. Better to wait for a time when a child is calm to reflect on the experience. By naming an emotion and talking about how to express it appropriately the next time, parents are providing their children with a tool kit for going forward.
There are no vacations from parenthood, but adding "narrator" to your job description may help in navigating your family's journey.