In my last post I talked about how to respond when children show up in a heightened state of emotion (also known as: losing it/freaking out/spiraling). Despite the urge to jump into problem-solving mode, it is more impactful to listen, validate and create space for the feelings.
So, what do we do after the emotional storm subsides – when the child is sitting there like a deflated balloon and the room is full of feelings?
- Make contact. A hug, or even a reassuring pat on the back is comforting and grounding.
- Feed them. Sometimes low blood sugar exacerbates a troubled mood (and I’ve always thought snacks can be restorative).
- Tell them you are so sorry they feel the way they are feeling.
- Most importantly, tell them you will take their lead on what to do next.
That’s right, YOU will take THEIR lead. Because when we experience our children’s distress, we know what WE want to do. WE want to call the school and complain about the teacher. WE want to contact the parent of the child that’s making our child miserable. WE may even want to tell the child it’s their own fault for not being prepared (perhaps again…).
INSTEAD, try asking these questions:
- “So, what do you want to do about this?”
- “How can I help?”
- “Do you want me to do anything?”
- “Can we make a plan together?”
Allowing the child to lead shows you trust their judgement, so they can too. You enhance their confidence and competence when they can come up with a solution. You provide support and are a model of how they can help others they see in distress. Enhancing empathy in this way is a bonus!
Partnering with your child on the journey through emotions to the other side is another way towards less distress, better communication, and more smiles.