Enabling Children To Express All Of Their Emotions.

You know that feeling when you’re standing in the middle of the supermarket and your child picks that exact moment to have an almighty meltdown? Or when you have people visiting and your child decides that they don’t want to play with the visiting children, and a tussle breaks out?

There are moments in life that don’t always go as smoothly as planned, and these can be embarrassing and stressful for us as parents. We feel as if it is our job to put a stop to the socially frowned upon behaviour quickly, and resume the peace. But often this can lead us to gloss over the real need behind
the behaviours. In an attempt to prevent a scene, parents use all the tricks to coerce their child in to following their instructions. They bribe and barter, they punish and threaten, or perhaps they simply whisper quietly and tell them “You’re okay,there’s no need to cry.”

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Sometimes these tricks work, though often what materialises is an even bigger outburst, either there and then, or saved up ready to be released in an explosion at a later time. Why? Because that need, the one that caused the behaviour in the first place, is still lingering there, unmet under the surface,
ready and waiting for it’s chance to make itself known.

Parents, especially those on a path of conscious parenting, can feel guilty or just as upset as their crying child, when they find there is nothing they can do to stop the tears. They latch on to the emotions their child is experiencing, and let themselves become consumed with their own upset. This can result in
the parent loosing control, either shouting in frustration, or bursting in to tears themselves, because they feel lost and don’t know what they should do to make it all better.

So what can you do if you find yourself in one of these situations?

Firstly, accept that your child has a right to experience and embrace their emotions without having to hide or moderate them. Being able to regulate these feelings is a skill that will come in time with practice and support.

Secondly, realise the fact that your child’s emotions are not your own. No one has the power to make you feel something; that is within your own control. So when your child becomes angry, you can empathise and you can support them, but you can also keep your cool and keep your own mood regulated. It takes practice to respond calmly to heated situations, but it is this calm response that will help prevent the situation from spiralling out of control, and provide the child with a stable figure to rely on through this time.

Thirdly, understand that these emotions are not an attack on you as a parent. They are simply a demonstration of an unmet need. Your job is not to put a stop to the stream of feelings, but simply to try to identify the need (which when you are looking for it, is usually very apparent – tired, hunger, bored, hot, intimidated…) and then, to be there for them while they release these emotions.

What does this look like?
Depending on the situation and the child involved, how this plays out will vary widely. It could be a parent holding a child in their arms as they cry, waiting for them to let it all out and finally stopping when they are ready. It could be a parent sitting on the floor in the aisle of the supermarket, waiting quietly and non judgementally while their child cries nearby, unwilling to be touched. This parent would tune in to their child, and be waiting for an opportunity to offer further comfort in the form of a hug or holding their hand. Or it could be asking your guests to leave the room, and creating some quiet time for the child to express themselves away from the eyes of people who do not yet have their full trust.

How it looks is down to the individuals involved, but the consistent theme is that the parent would understand that it is not their job to make the crying stop, that this display of emotions is valid and necessary for the child, and that their role is simply one of support, empathy and love. This revelation can be very liberating, as we can let go of our own feelings of frustration and embarrassment and instead focus on meeting the needs of our child, supporting them as they experience the whole range of their emotions.

How does it make you feel when your child has strong emotions in public? Do you feel pressure to stop it?

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Samantha Vickery is a mother and writer, who is passionate about natural and continuum parenting. She believes in trusting children, which is the strong message behind her parenting guide, Trust Me, I’m A Toddler. She writes about Natural Parenting at her blog Love Parenting, where she hopes to help others to find more joy within their parenting journey, and create powerful connections with their children.
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