Recently, I read a quote that stated: “Parenting is like walking through the park, Jurassic Park.” I had a good chuckle at this, because it is absolutely true! Being a parent can be incredibly rewarding and fun, but it can also be overwhelming and stressful. As a counselor, I work with a lot of parents who are concerned about their child’s behaviors. My first line of defense is to help the child to learn emotional regulation and I teach the parent how to use specific skills with their child at home. These skills or ‘parenting hacks’ as I endearingly call them, can help children identify and work with their emotions. Often times the parents learn a thing or two about themselves as well!
Here is a helpful guide of ‘parenting hacks’ that you can try with your own kids:
Kids tend to have a limited emotional vocabulary, especially toddlers. Helping children to develop their emotional vocabulary (putting feelings to words) will help them regulate and work with their emotions. Most kids can only name three feelings (happy, sad, and angry). Children (especially older ones) should be able to identify over 20+ feelings!
Children do not understand the reasons ‘why’ they are angry, upset, or even happy. They need help to understand why they are feeling they way they are. When you notice that your child is experiencing ‘feelings’ say them out loud! If you see your child laughing, say “I see that you are laughing, are you happy?”. If they are acting out in a store you could say “I see that you are feeling disappointed because you wanted to buy a toy”. Identifying their feelings helps the child to feel heard, understood, and validated. It also allows them to develop a vocabulary so they can talk about their feelings now and when they are older. Good communication will help to cut down on tantrums and outbursts because they can understand the cause and effects of their emotions.The next step would be to help the child identify feelings that they see in other people. You could say “He fell out of the swing, how do you think he feels?” or “Your friend is crying, I think she feels lonely”. This is another way for them to learn how others may feel and how their actions can impact others.
Children do not know how to express their feelings, which can result in breakdowns, acting out, or temper tantrums. A lot of these ‘behaviors’ are children releasing the anxieties and stressors of their day. You can teach children better ways to cope with their overwhelming feelings. Talk about your own feelings and tell them how you deal with them. Ask them what they do when they are starting to feel mad, sad, or afraid. You can encourage them to take deep breaths, time alone, or asks for hugs when they are feeling overwhelmed or angry. Develop a plan, so that when they get to the ‘breaking point’ you can help them cope with their feelings.
When it is time to have a chat, whether it is to correct a behavior, empathize, or have a talk, I recommend getting down or below their eye level. Kids, especially toddlers, live in a world with people much bigger than them. Meeting them where they are at physically can make a difference in how your message is received. A gentle touch on the shoulder or arm helps them to know that you care and that you are listening.
Helping kids to identify and express their feelings in a healthy and positive way will help build a solid foundation for later in life. For more information on child vocabulary and other resources for parents, you can go to the Center for Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning.
Kylie Chaffin, Licensed Mental Health Counselor.