We have all been there – your child walks in crying/frustrated/steam coming out of their ears/about to burst. You ask what’s going on and they start to spill it. This can take many forms: crying; going off on a long angry tirade; monologue-ing about all the ways their life is terrible; or spiraling about how everything is ruined because of one social interaction or test grade.
So how do we respond? The first impulse is usually to want to say, “Don’t worry! It’s going to be ok!” We take over and launch into a full-on explanation of exactly what they need to do to feel better. Because we are the grown-ups, we’ve been there, and we know how to solve the problem. Right?
Perhaps, but when the goal is to help a child learn to manage their own strong feelings, I’d like to suggest something different. When our children come to us in distress:
We have to fight the inclination to DO and just BE.
We need to LISTEN. Let the child go on and on (and on) as long as they need to. Without interruption.
We should NOT glance at our phone or continue typing an email or making dinner. We need to give our FULL attention.
Because when we do this, we are honoring their feelings and teaching them to do the same. We are enhancing communication. We are validating that expressing themselves is important. We are showing our kids we can HOLD their feelings. Even when what they are telling us makes us feel strongly too.
Sitting with children and their strong feelings is the first step toward helping them smile more, find a sense of control, and worry less.