Hey parents, how many times have you gone through this? Your children are playing a game together and they get into a disagreement. The situation starts at a level 2 and expands into a level 10. Arguing and crying ensue, and they all walk away hurt, disgruntled, or angry. If you’re familiar with this, you’ve probably been concerned about how you can train your children to experience their emotions and handle them in a healthy way. So how do we use proactive parenting here? We want to give you three tips to teach your child emotional awareness and regulation.
Time to role model!
It’s no secret, but maybe a good reminder, that your child exhibits what they see modeled. This includes what they watch on TV and social media, how they see their friends behave, as well as any adult in their life–especially you. They mimic your every move, even the things you think they don’t see (your facial expressions, tone, emotional temperature). Children sense their parents’ emotions and respond with similar emotions. When they see an appropriate response, it will help them with their own.
When playing with your child, demonstrate healthy techniques for emotional wellness, such as verbalizing what you’re feeling in a given situation (e.g. “Oh no! I was working on ___ and it got ruined! I feel disappointed!”), taking deep breaths, or even verbalizing that you need a break–and then returning to solve it later. These exercises are great to intentionally practice in front of your child at play, and they’re just as important to practice when the rubber hits the road with real stress. Nothing is more powerful to your child’s learning than watching you handle a real life stressor with emotional maturity.
Preparing for the future can give children the confidence they need to tackle new situations. When your child feels equipped for conflicts, they are much more likely to exhibit strength and poise when a problem arises. Play a game with your child where you discuss how to respond to different hypothetical scenarios. What is an appropriate emotion to feel, how strongly, and what action would they take? You can write down these scenarios on pieces of paper and draw them out of a bowl, or even create a workbook of them. These scenarios may be things like, “Your friend borrowed your bike and returned it scratched” or “Your brother says you can’t play with him.”
This is a great time to bring up “size of the problem” with your child: how big is a problem, and how big should my reaction be? Identifying the size of the problem when it arises will help your child assess what an appropriate course of action would be.
Practice calming exercises.
You can and should practice these calming exercises for yourself as well as with your children. Seeing that this is something we must all do no matter our age normalizes them, rather than making them seem like something we’re lording over them or using as a “consequence.” Demonstrate breathwork with your child. Following a guided breathwork regularly can even be an activity you do together to bond and set as an example of wellness. Play relaxing music in a quiet space when your child feels tense. Allowing this time to calm and settle high emotions before dealing with them can prevent explosive emotions and miscommunication when we feel emotionally overwhelmed.
Are you curious about what “emotional temperature” is? Download this parent activity!