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Helping Children Deal with Negative Emotions

Author and humorist Erma Bombeck once wrote, “When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen.  When they’re finished, I climb out.”  As parents and teachers, we all have moments when we would like to hide away, avoid confrontation, and wait for the quiet that follows the storm.

Even though our goal is to raise calm and happy kids, very often we make mistakes in the moments when our children are at their most vulnerable.  For example: when our kids throw tantrums, we may attempt to appeal to them through pure logic, instruction, or worse case scenario, by “losing it” ourselves.  When we comprehend what is going on in our child’s brain during these meltdowns, we learn a better way to relate to our children as well as a powerful method to teach them effective tools for coping with their own tumultuous emotions.

Use logic to make sense of feelings.   Simply telling children to “calm down” or “stop crying” is not an effective way to help them through what Dr. Bryson calls “emotional tsunamis.”   Demanding children to be rational, when they are operating under the influence of their irrational right brains is a mis-attuned effort often made in vain.   Instead, offer children empathy.  Acknowledge that they are feeling bad, scared, or frustrated and express that you are sorry they’re in pain.

As they become calmer, ask them to explain what upset them and help guide them through their story, while investigating what triggered the meltdown.

Tune in next month for “Part 2” of “helping children with negative emotions.” 

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