I spend my days with a 2.5 year old toddler… which is another way of saying that I spend my days dealing with a LOT of emotion.
- I cut her sandwich the wrong way –> tears of distress.
- She wanted to put on her hat after her shoes –> screams of frustration.
- “No, you can’t play with the blades of the food processor” –> tortured sobs.
- Her sister looked at her –> fit of anger OR unbridled elation (clearly we’re still figuring out the whole sibling dynamic over here).
As an adult, I can find her emotions tiring and seemingly ‘wrong.’ I become frustrated at her emotions, only seeing how off-base they are. My thoughts cycle predictably: “You should be happy and content. I’m doing practically everything for you. Your life is managed in such a way that there is really nothing to cry about!” Sometimes I even tell her a version of that out loud: “There’s no reason to be sad about that!”
I’m so quick to push towards the end result (happy child) that I often neglect to deal with the opportunity in front of me: helping my child grow in emotional maturity.
I want my child to sit somewhere in the middle of the road when it comes to emotions- neither controlled by them nor taught to ignore them. When I give in to her tantrums mindlessly, I am reinforcing that her emotions control all, even the adults in her life. When I tell her to simply stop being sad or angry, I’m teaching her that her emotions are bad or meant to be ignored.
How do we raise emotionally healthy children? Certainly there are hundreds of books that explore this topic in much greater depth, but here are a few places I’ve been convicted to start:
1. Listen and acknowledge. I need to take a deep breath, consider this emotional moment as an opportunity for growth (rather than a frustrating inconvenience), and enter into her world. Perhaps ask her, “What are you feeling right now?” or prompt her with something such as, “Does having to go home now make you feel sad?”
2. Develop her emotional vocabulary. Teach her about different types of emotions. Help her understand and name what she is feeling. Sometimes I focus so much on teaching “academic” skills (colors, shapes, letters, etc.) that I forget the importance of also teaching social/emotional skills. If my child can grow into naming what she is feeling, we will have a much easier time dealing rightly with it. So, we name emotions in the thick of the moment; we name emotions as we read books and look at pictures (“what do you think that person is feeling?”); we grow our repertoire through casually introducing more and more types of emotions (beyond “sad” and “happy” to “startled,” “shocked,” “disappointed,” etc.).
3. Consider how I convey my own emotions. Age does not always denote maturity, and just because I’m an adult doesn’t mean I have it all together in the emotions department! Not. At. All. My toddler’s seemingly “crazy” emotions have often mirrored mine… and reminded me of the importance of continuing to grow in my own emotional health. For example, how am I talking about my day in front of my children? How do I respond when I get stuck behind the car driving 5mph on a 35mph road? When my toddler escalates, do I escalate likewise?
In the midst of some looooooong days, I’m hopeful that I’m not just dealing with unrelated screaming fits, but rather that I’m working to raise a child that will be able to deal with her emotions in a healthy way.
Does anyone else deal with overwhelming emotions from their littles? What are some basic things you’ve found helpful with your child?