Ask the Savvy Parent: Positively Handle a Child’s Negative Emotions


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The Savvy Parent

Counsellor at The Savvy Parent
The Savvy Parent holds a Montessori Certification (Sri Lanka) Bachelors' Degree in Early Childhood Education (USA). She has over 15 years of teaching experience (primarily with children under the age of 8) and 6 years of experience in working with children with special needs (mostly autism). She is the creator of The Savvy Parent workshop as well as a workshop on Redirecting Children's Behaviour/ Positive Discipline.She has worked with a wide variety of students including those with learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD and other behavioural challenges. She is currently writing her first book on parenting.

muslim-motherMy 5-year-old son is a bit hyperactive. He can’t wait to get something done. He shouts and screams most of the time. He gets angry very quickly. Now, he’s fighting with the younger one too. When he plays with the other children, he is happy; but he can’t tolerate even small arguments. On the other hand, he is a fast learner, interested in learning new things, hearing stories, asking questions, and is also very sensitive. His teachers also say he is naughty but excellent in academics.

He loves books – the only way to keep him sit silently is with books but it is not possible always.

About me, I really enjoy teaching new things to him and clearing all his doubts scientifically. Also, I tell stories whenever he asks. I used to advice him according to Quran and Sunnah. I love him soooo much but the problem comes when he starts irritating me for silly things: crying and crying. I lose my control; then he starts to apologize. He says sorry and starts crying again; then I also feel sad. This happens daily 2-3 times.

I need your help very badly.

Dear Parent,
It sounds like you have a wonderful, active and bright child who just needs a little help with dealing with his emotions, Insha’Allah.

Losses and disappointments can feel like the end of the world to a child, and kids will do anything to fend off these intolerable feelings. So they cry and rage and lash out.

Many parents may be tempted to send an angry child to his or her room to ‘calm down’. It’s important to remember that we can’t reason with them when they are furious. It’s not the right time to teach lessons or ask for an apology. He needs to calm down. Remember tantrums are nature’s way of helping children let off steam. Their brains are still developing and they don’t yet have the neural pathways to control themselves as we do. (And please note that we don’t always regulate our anger very well, even as adults!)

Some parents, not knowing what to do or how to deal with their children, send the child to his or her room. The problem with this is that he will calm down eventually but unfortunately he will also learn that his anger is unacceptable, and that he is on his own when it comes to managing his feelings. No wonder so many adults develop anger-management issues, whether it is yelling at kids, arguing with the spouse, or overreacting to avoid acknowledging angry feelings.

Here are some simple tips and things to remember and will help your child manage his anger.
If kids feel safe expressing their anger, and we meet that anger with compassion, their anger will begin to melt. That’s when they can access the more upsetting feelings underneath:

1.      Take a Deep Breath. If your child is angry, it is even more imperative that you stay calm. If you are one of those people who get angry yourself, take a few deep breaths to calm down before attending to your child. Not only are you modeling emotion regulation, but by remaining calm he too will become calm. I have even taught children to take a deep breath and count to 10 when they feel angry. Counting gives them something else to focus on while their heart rate settles down.

2.      Set limits on actions not feelings. For example: “You’re so angry! You wish you could get what you want right now. I’m so sorry, but you can’t have that. You can be as mad as you want, but hitting is not OK, no matter how upset you are. You can pout or stamp your feet to show how mad you are, but you may not hit”.

It is also important for your son to understand that what is acceptable behaviour for him may not be the same as for his younger sibling.

3.      Empathize. Don’t try to reason or explain. When his emotions and adrenaline is high, it is not the time to explain why he can’t have what he wants. Acknowledge the fact that he is upset and reassure him that you will talk to him when he has calmed down.

 For example: “You really wanted that; I’m so sorry.” or “I’m so sorry you can’t have the _____ you want. I know this is so hard.”

Once you recognize the feelings under the anger, he will probably pause and get calmer. When you empathize and understand his anger, he collapses into your arms for a good cry. And all those upset feelings just evaporate.

Gradually, your child will internalize the ability to deal with disappointments, and learn that while he can’t always get what he wants, he can always get what he needs: someone who loves him, all of him, even including the unpleasant parts like rage and disappointment. You’ll have taught him how to manage his emotions. He’ll be more resilient over time. And you’ll have strengthened your relationship with him. Remember, you won’t always be able to pull it off. But every time you do, you’ll be one step closer to helping him handle his emotion.

Now about the other part about him bothering you for small things and needing you to be with him and keep him busy. Find activities that he can do independently on his own. Sometimes the problem arises because children don’t know what to do with themselves and look to the parent or another adult to help relieve their “boredom”. As parents, it’s important to spend time with your children but at the same time, children need to understand that you may be busy or need time for yourself and aren’t always able to keep them engaged in activities.

If your son loves books and being read to, designate a time during the day for book reading. If he wants you to play with him, set a time in the day for that too. As you have two children make sure you set times to spend with your other child too. Create a schedule and hang it up

Have a go-to basket with activities that he can go to when he doesn’t know what to do. Another option would be to have a “Busy Box”. Sit together with your child and come up with activities that he likes to do and most importantly can do without you. Write each idea on a strip of paper, fold it so that what is written cannot be seen and place it in the box. When the time arises that he’s unsure what to do and comes to you, direct him to “The Busy Box”. This helps him figure out what to do and at the same time frees you from the responsibility of entertaining him.

Insha’Allah, I hope this helps.

Happy parenting!

The Savvy Parent

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