Why would we expect children to know how to cope with emotions when we don’t know how?
Children are new to this world. They come here without any knowing or understanding of how to manage this thing that happens to them sometimes; becoming emotional. Mind you, they have no concept of the word emotional, they just feel something different, most likely.
Being emotional can feel scary, especially if the feeling is intense and you have no idea, what has caused it, or how to manage it. So, I’m guessing they do what comes naturally to them. For example:
Your child may feel frustrated or angry. They bite you, or hit out. You go straight to “Why are they acting out this way? They’re just being ‘naughty,’ as your normal response.
And yet what is actually happening is that the child is thinking something, or believing something and they don’t know how to tell you what that is. They may be thinking “You’re not talking to me” and because you’re not it is creating this anger.
They think you aren’t paying them enough attention, so they bite you. They are biting you because they don’t know how to tell you that they want you to play with them, or talk to them.
Your child might be scared and yet they don’t know how to tell you they are scared. They might simply feel terrified of the feelings they are having.
And this overwhelm of feeling and no knowing how to cope with emotions they are feeling is what causes anxiety, as we know it.
We tend to shut our children down
Do you notice that as parents, when these situations happen, we tend to shut the child down and want to find a solution to the problem, quickly. We have too many things to do and think about and we need whatever is going on to go away.
This can have the affect of the child thinking, like many of us, that it is not okay to have the emotion, to be angry, hurt or sad, whatever that emotion is at the time for your child.
And that in itself creates even more anxiety.
In working with adults that have anxiety what they have found is that as a child they had an emotion. They didn’t know how to respond to it, or what to do with it. Their parents weren’t comfortable with them expressing the emotion and so they told them not to.
The child meanwhile is shutting inside themselves all this unexpressed emotion. That feels overwhelming and anything that triggers the child into going back to that place of feeling, causes so much distress that they don’t want to go there.
Is this something that you experienced as a child? If it is, then you may understand how your child is feeling.
Perhaps there is a different approach you can take.
What would it be like to stop and notice what was happening before your child had their outburst. What do you notice about their words, actions and how they were acting?
Do you notice they are wanting something? Do you see that they have intense emotion?
Then how about talking to them about how they are feeling. Even for little ones it may be worth naming what they are feeling. “It looks like you are angry, right now”, for example. Then asking “Why are you angry?”
Perhaps helping them to label the emotion may help them.
Also helping them to slow things down will work wonders. Get them to talk you through what is happening. You will most likely here lots of things. They may be confused, or thinking way ahead, trying to figure things out.
Ultimately taking the time to connect with your child, and support them in being in touch with their emotions and how to cope with them, will help them to feel okay with experiencing emotion. This in turn will support the lowering of their anxiety levels.