It’s totally OK to cry and show emotions.
What isn’t OK is when those emotions turn into unsafe and destructive behaviors.
Admit it, we all have emotions and we all cry from time to time. It could be due to sadness, happiness, or an unknown cause. Regardless, we are human and have emotions that need to be expressed. Our kids need to be allowed to express their emotions too!
From working with kids and parenting for many years, I know that expressing one’s emotions is something that is taught and modeled. If a child regularly sees and hears his caregivers shout, hit, and engage in self-harming behaviors (overeating, drug use), it is highly likely that the child will grow up learning and accepting that these behaviors are how people manage storing emotions. On the other hand, a child who sees and hears their caregivers taking a break, talking about their feelings, and using healthy ways to calm themselves (exercise, deep breathing, counseling) they are more apt to embrace these ways of expressing themselves.
If you are one of my followers I’m sure you have heard me talk about our children being blank slates. They learn from us and other primary caregivers. Coping skills do not happen automatically.
To best get to the heart of change in improving your child’s emotional responses, I have 5 steps for you to consider:
Communicate. Whether it is through verbal or non-verbal means, get inside your kid’s head to figure out what is driving their misbehavior and what would help to stop it. This takes some patience as you figure out what is bothering them, when it bothers them, and what can be done to avoid specific triggers and/or creating a coping skills plan. All this needs to be done with your child, not for them. So get those conversations going! Link to non-verbal communication.
Find coping skills that work. The most effective coping skills for children include taking a break, positive self-talk, exercise, and engaging in tasks that make them feel happy. Whichever coping skills you and your child try, be sure to practice them when you are both calm. Use pictures and/or words as a reminder of what do to when emotions are running high.
Use consequences. Consequences are a part of life. People of all ages are faced with consequences every day. Positive consequences come when we do things well, such as impress our boss. Negative consequences come when we do something wrong, such as a speeding ticket. Natural consequences come without anyone’s intervention at all, such as if you don’t do the laundry – your family will have no clean clothes. Use communication skills with your children to tie consequences into their use of coping skills. You could even take your pictures and/or words that you used to remind everyone of the coping skills and create a cute plan out of them.
Personal plan. Personalizing this step to fit your child’s interests takes positive behavior change to a whole new level! Here’s the recipe for a successful plan:
- Use what you know about which behaviors your child needs to improve upon
- Add practiced coping skills
- Follow through on consequences
- Record and repeat
Tip: Kids love earning positive consequences so make sure you keep them coming.
Include others. Make other caregivers aware of your child’s expectations and plan. Ask that they also participate by following through with the plan. This could be with daycare providers, babysitters, and teachers. Caregivers who live in your home need to have total buy-in and in a perfect world will create the plan along with you and your child. All adults must be talking the same language and be modeling the same coping skills for this to work. Lastly, include other siblings in the plan. This can create healthy competition between the kids in your home as each one tries to accomplish the plan goal(s).
This process has great potential to be a fun learning experience for everyone involved. I have seen it work time and time again for families who are looking to improve upon their children’s behavior choices. The best part has been when parents feel confident in their parenting abilities and kids feel proud of their behavior choices.
Barb Roba, LMHC, Ed.M, CAS, CPC