Meet Our Guest Writer For Today!
Grace is a wife, homeschooling mom, doula, pastor’s kid, and writer. She currently resides in southern Oregon with her husband and three gorgeous children, where they enjoy walks in the woods, wading in the river, reading good books, and attending a diverse and compassionate church.
You can find Grace over at My Divine Blessings where she blogs about special needs, family, pregnancy, Christianity and many other things.
Building Emotional Responsibility
Teaching children to do their chores or care for their things are important tasks for the parent. But what sometimes seems an impossible job is to teach them how to manage their emotions. By “manage” I do not mean “suppress” or “hide”. I mean to acknowledge their emotions, but to act in a way that is responsible.
The goal of teaching this kind of emotional responsibility is not to make children into tiny robots who feel nothing and are always compliant. A little bit of non-compliance is good for children—they need to know how to assert themselves and to stand up for what they believe. The goal is to help them develop assertion skills while managing emotions so that they are more at ease, and are able to communicate their needs clearly. Emotional outbursts might be authentic, but they also distract from the issue and escalate situations. They cause confusion and additional stress—for both parties. So teaching emotional responsibility is important for the child’s overall health and happiness.
I am reminded of the verse in Ephesians when Paul says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin” (4:26). How is this accomplished? How can we be angry without sinning? It’s a matter of distinguishing between feeling and acting.
Feeling vs. Acting
My oldest daughter has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (in addition to ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder). This makes it very easy for her to “explode” and lose her cool. Teaching her self-control and emotional responsibility has been quite the task. We’ve made some headway in recent months, but it is still a daily challenge. To accomplish this, I’ve given her permission to feel, but have instructed her not to act. A line I commonly say is, “It’s okay to feel angry. You can be upset, but it is not okay to hit and yell, or to throw a tantrum.” The distinction between these two is vital in guiding your child and teaching them emotional responsibility.
Manage Your Own Emotions
Setting a good example by your own emotionally responsible behavior is key. Let them see you saying sorry when you’ve done wrong and admit to your mistakes. Show them how you can be frustrated without throwing a tantrum. Be open about how you feel and make a point to say things like, “I am very upset right now, and I need to take time on my own to calm down.” Then walk away from the situation and come back when you’ve cooled off. Seeing humility from parents is something that deeply :impacts children. It builds confidence when they know that even mom and dad mess up sometimes. Seeing you take specific steps toward taking charge of your own emotions will help them to see how it all works, and will reinforce what you teach them to do.
Teach Them Relaxation
Even kids without Anxiety need to know how to calm down when they are angry. Everyone gets mad from time to time, and knowing how to feel that anger without acting on it is vital to our relationships with one another. There are many resources online for teaching children relaxation skills. You can go to your favorite search engine and look up “sensory bins”, “calm-down boxes”, or “relaxation for children”, and you will find a plethora of blogs and websites dedicated to educating parents on these techniques. Do your own research and find what works for your child. For us, doing deep-breathing exercises, pressure massage, and visualization have all helped.
Scripture memorization and recitation is also an excellent way to help encourage relaxation while soothing their souls. Being able to recall God’s promises is encouraging to children and adults alike. Memorize those encouraging scriptures with your child—make it a nightly routine before bedtime to recite those verses—and say them yourself when you are feeling stressed or anxious.
“The LORD will give strength to His people; The LORD will bless His people with peace.” (Psalm 29:11)
Praise What You Want, Ignore the Rest
It’s easy to get carried away with telling our children what to do, and easy to forget to praise them for what they do right. Look for those things that you want them to do and find ways to congratulate them on little tasks. Some of the things I’ve said to my daughter recently are: “Wow! You paid such close attention to making that Lego tower! It wasn’t always easy to do it, but you kept at it, and now look at how tall it is!”; “Thank you for cleaning up without complaining. I know you didn’t really want to, but you had self-control, and you obeyed without throwing a fit.”; “Thank you for using your words and asking me politely for help. I know that [task] was difficult for you, but you didn’t get frustrated or upset—you just came to me for help and asked very nicely.” When you praise, be specific and make it child-centric: “YOU made that house out of blocks!”; “I’m so proud of YOU for helping your sister!”
And for the things that you don’t want reinforced? Just ignore them. Purposefully, not flippantly. Is your child throwing a tantrum? And I do mean tantrum—not a sensory meltdown or crying in pain, but a true tantrum where the child is simply not getting their way and throwing a fit. If so, you can turn away—break eye contact—and wait for the opportunity to praise them for calming down. If they are going for a long time, you can cue them indirectly by saying things like, “Wow, those are some big emotions you’re feeling! I hope you calm down soon so we can talk about what you’re feeling”; or, “I know you’re upset; I’ll be here waiting when you’re ready to figure out a solution with me.”
Ordering them to stop will only escalate the situation. Either it will reinforce the behavior by giving them attention for it, or it will spur them to fight back and provoke them to further fit-throwing. Depriving them of these reinforcements is like putting a blanket over a fire. Don’t fuel their fire, and don’t tempt yourself to act on your anger. Step away until you are both calm enough to discuss it and problem-solve together.
The End Result
I will not pretend that we have arrived, or that we are now experts. I still lose my cool from time to time, as does my daughter. But the frequency has decreased greatly. Now, instead of my daughter falling on the floor with limbs flailing, she can say, “I’m mad right now. I’m going to my room to calm down.” Sometimes she yells those words, but I’m proud that she’s found any words at all to express herself and take responsibility for how she is feeling. And this is coming from the girl who once threw herself on the floor, kicking and screaming, because I told her we were having chicken for dinner!
My daughter is also more empathetic and compassionate when I am feeling stressed. Just as I coach her through those hard times, so too she comes alongside me and rubs my back, or cues me to take deep breaths, when I am anxious or frustrated. Bringing awareness to her own emotions has opened her eyes to others’ emotions and has given her a new level of sensitivity and understanding.
It isn’t perfectly executed, but it’s working! It takes time, diligence, awareness, and a great deal of energy. But the rewards are worth the effort. And remember—while we must take those steps, it is not we who accomplish it. It is only by God’s grace that we do it.
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
If you are interested in writing for the Parenting Weekends please email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org
April 2015: Setting Boundaries vs Stiffling Individuality
As parents we need to set boundaries to keep our children safe ns help guide them. In setting those boundaries we have to be careful to do it in a way that we don’t suppress our children’s individuality. We have to hold them but not squeeze them.