Your Child’s Negative Emotions: A Learning Opportunity

Posted March 30, 2015 by

As a parent, how often do you find yourself saying the following things when your child displays anger, frustration or anxiety?

“Don’t be upset, it’s okay.”
“You’re being silly…just stop it!”
“Don’t cry, be a big boy/girl.”

You want your child to feel better when they’re upset, so your intentions are in the right place. You don’t want your child to be labelled a crybaby, clingy or whiny, so you try to shorten how long he or she is upset in an effort to teach them that it’s actually better to feel better, right?

Parenting a Child with Negative Emotions

Although you may feel that it’s in your child’s best interest to learn how to deal with negative feelings quickly and “be done” with them, it actually does more harm than good when we dismiss how our children are feeling and we rush them through the process of dealing with their feelings so that we can get on with our day. When you do this, your child learns that it’s actually not okay to experience negative feelings. Your child learns that negative feelings are not welcome, and that they need to be put away as quickly as possible so that everyone else can feel happy again.

Of course, these are not messages that you are openly sharing with your child, but these are the messages that you communicate when you try to cover up your child’s negative feelings by telling them that it’s okay (when it’s really not okay), or waving a carrot stick in front of them to distract them from what’s really going on.

Sometimes your child’s “big problems” might seem pretty small or trivial to you, like when your child is terrified of the one-eyed monster under their bed. It can be easy to brush off their fears and worries because we know that these are not earth-shattering issues. However, your child doesn’t know that. In your child’s mind, their feelings are very real (and they are!), and children can feel frustrated and misunderstood when parents don’t seem to truly get how they’re feeling.

Negative feelings can be treasure troves of information because they signal to us that something is wrong and that we are no longer feeling good. Negative feelings are like warning bells that we are not “on track.” When we pay attention to these feelings, we can learn what caused them in the first place as well as how we can move forward in a positive way. When negative feelings lack the attention that they deserve, they can spiral out of control, causing meltdowns, tantrums and emotional shut-downs. Worse of all, children miss out on the opportunity to understand and learn from their negative feelings—a powerful skill to have.

Here is an easy 3-step process to implement when your child is experiencing a negative feeling:

Pause, don’t react. Recognize that there is a real reason for the negative feeling your child is having. Remember, too, that you are more likely to be effective if you are approaching the situation in a calm, measured way.

Acknowledge how your child is feeling. Try saying something like, “I can tell that you’re {sad, angry, etc.}.” Or ask your child to name their feelings.

Once your child has calmed down and you understand what is going on, help them to problem-solve how they can improve their feelings. Is there something they can do that will help them feel better? Discussing possible, appropriate solutions together is a wonderful way to communicate to your child that their feelings are valid, and that you’re there to support them.

Negative feelings are a normal and expected part of being human, even during childhood. They won’t always feel fun or comfortable to deal with when they pop up. But, when you teach your child the importance of identifying, owning and shifting their feelings, you will set them up for years of success in handling their emotions effectively, and help them develop the compassion to understand the emotions of others.

About

Milissa Harding is a Certified WISDOM Coach and expert in teaching parents how to support their children to create a success mindset, so that they develop powerful self-esteem for life. She has designed a variety of programs to meet the unique needs of children, and she works with parents virtually (Skype, phone) to allow for flexibility and convenience.

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