Understanding and helping your child regulate their emotions
"My child is so angry; I do not recognise him anymore." This is a worry that is often heard at Child and Youth Therapy Wereldkind. After the move to a new country children may experience strong emotions, like anger. How can you as a parent help your child to regulate their emotions?
Children and their emotions
All emotions are good. Happy and proud are easy emotions. Anger, however, is a difficult emotion, but important, especially when it comes to setting boundaries. However, anger is not always pleasant in family life. As a parent, you want to help your child to regulate their feelings, for themselves and for the family.
Children can get angry out of nowhere. They do not enjoy their anger, but they are not able yet to regulate strong emotions. By continuously staying patient, showing empathy, and responding in a calm and clear voice you teach your child how to do this.
Take your children’s emotions seriously
Take the feelings and emotions of your child seriously. For example, when your child says they didn't like their friend, we might say: "How is that possible, you stayed such a long time and you came home smiling.”
In such a moment, you do not take your child's feelings seriously and you give your child the feeling that they cannot rely on their own feelings. So, in response to the example, you could say: "You didn't like the playdate with your friend? Tell me about it."
Not only do you accept the feeling of your child, you also teach them to use words to express their feelings. Often your child's negative behaviour is their way of asking for help; to connect with you. They might not ask nicely, but they do come to connect with you and that's good.
Helping your child regulate emotions
Here are some tips to help your child regulate their emotions.
Children’s basic needs
Make sure you have met your child’s basic needs, such as their physical needs: food, water and sleep, and affective needs: connection and touch and safety and structure. Consistency helps with the feeling of being safe.
Help your child recognise and express their emotions
Say what you see and use words that belong to that emotion. For example: "I can see from your face that you don't like it. I can imagine it would be a shame if you didn't participate."
Recognise tension and provide an outlet
Learn to recognise the signs of building tension. Provide an outlet by laughing about something, doing a quiet activity, cuddling or doing physical activities outside. These allow your child to release some tension.
Set an example to your child
If you stay calm, you show how you regulate your emotions.
Wait until your child is calm again
Trying to talk while being angry doesn’t work.
Ask yourself: what in me makes it hard to deal with anger? Did you as a child have the space to express your feelings?
Let the emotions be present
Just be there for your child, without any well-meant advice. The more a child is allowed to express themselves and feels safe, the fewer outbursts there will be.
Limit the behaviour, not the emotion
You allow the expression of anger, but you limit the behaviour. You do this in an empathetic way. For example, your child may be angry if a sibling has taken a toy from them, but they are not allowed to hit their sibling. Tell your child how you would like to see it next time.
No timeouts, just connect
By sending your child away, you are leaving your child on their own with a difficult emotion and they are only allowed back when they are happy. Does that mean that the child can only be present when they’re happy? Find out what your child needs.
Your child does not always mean it personally
Sometimes you get told what a stupid mum or dad you are. Don’t take that personally. Look beyond the anger, what is the need?
A calming place
Build a calm spot where your child can go to relax. This is not the same as a time-out spot! Add stuffed animals, music, a soft blanket or a favourite toy.
Strengthen the bond with your child
Anger is often caused by a lack of connection. Make time for your child every day. Play together, laugh together, listen and then you will notice that your child can play comfortably by themselves more easily and require less attention from you. It ensures that your child is more willing to cooperate and that they can empathise with someone else. Furthermore, it does wonders for your child's mood and self-confidence.
Dr Diana Rongen is an experienced child psychologist and founder of Child and Youth Wereldkind. If you feel like there is something bothering your child or children, or perhaps you feel like your child needs help learning a certain skill, do not hesitate to get in touch.