© Sue Bradshaw for Auckland Therapy Blog, 4 June 2020
Strong emotions are difficult for all of us to cope with
Big feelings may include the pain of loss or regret, or fury at a perceived or actual slight or injustice, or fear that something bad is going to happen and we may not be able to cope. Children aren't born able to manage these strong feelings, and rely on us to help them learn how to weather these storms.
When children are feeling big feelings it helps them to know they don't have to deal with these all on their own. They need to know that what they are feeling is acceptable and that they won't be deserted or punished for feeling sad, angry, scared or any other strong emotional response.
If they are sad they need to be able to show that they are sad. Some children may cry, others may become very quiet, while others will seek physical contact and reassurance. It is important not to give messages such as "don't be like that" or "cheer up" as these tell a child that feeling the loss of something or someone is unacceptable. Sadness, like other strong feelings is a normal part of life.
Being emotionally available to an angry child is equally important but can be a challenge, especially if anger triggers strong emotions within you based on your own past experiences. Children who are angry can be either frightening or annoying to adults, leading adults to either withdraw from the child or respond with their own anger. Both adult anger and adult withdrawal can frighten a child and escalate their angry response.
Frightened children need you to help them feel safe. A calm, non-judgmental presence is helpful. While challenges are important in life, a child flooded with fear learns nothing and will become more reticent to push themselves beyond their comfort zone in the future.
If children are forced to manage these feelings on their own, the feelings are likely to morph into behaviours such as whining, hitting out at other children, or withdrawing.
General guidelines for helping your child with their feelings include:
My focus is helping families and individuals find a way through difficult times. This may be a short term intervention of 1 to 4 appointments or longer. I am providing a mix of online and in person consultations and therapy for children, teenagers and adults.
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