When my kids were younger and would fall and get hurt, I would immediately get frustrated with them: “Why were you running? Kids shouldn’t run!” Then, almost as quickly, I would comfort them. If you are judging me right now, get in line behind me. What in the name of roller coaster kid’s emotions is going on here?
But you get it—sometimes your kid’s emotions can be mind-boggling. When your toddler goes from content to collapsing in a millisecond, it’s hard to stay calm. When your teenager announces he has no friends and wants to live off the grid, it’s hard to be empathetic. When your kid uses emotion to get you to bend on a boundary, it’s hard to stay strong. Research shows we pick up and pass each other’s emotions back and forth like a ball. This is natural and sometimes good. But allowing your kid’s emotions to determine yours is one type of ball you don’t want to play with your kids. Here are 3 ways to avoid it.
1. Be calm.
If your kid is expressing frustration in a negative way, it’s tough not to do the same. But this only increases your child’s frustration. It’s so natural, and we are physically wired to do so, but we can learn a new way when we prepare ourselves and plan beforehand. Research shows the more you practice being calm, the better you get at it.When we stay strong, calm, and empathetic, our kids only have to deal with their confusing emotions, not ours.
2. Be empathetic.
While you want to be calm, you don’t want to be cold. We tend to get the “worst” of our kids including the emotions that hurt them the most. As you remain calm, address the emotion and the topic. For example, “I can see you are very disappointed about losing the game.” “You are very frustrated about your grade.” “You are sad your friends are leaving you out.” Just validating their emotions goes a long way in soothing their emotions. You don’t need to try to fix their emotions.
3. Be strong.
While we want to be empathetic, it doesn’t always mean we need to intervene. When possible, it is powerful to let your kids know you believe in their ability to handle certain situations. We also need to be strong when our child emotionally objects to our correction and discipline. Being strong means letting kids know what is OK and what is not. When one of our sons was 4 or 5, we would say, “It’s OK to feel shy, but it is not OK to be nasty.”
It is so easy, even natural, to use our emotions to deal with our kids’ emotions. Let’s choose something better. One of the best things we can do as dads is to stay emotionally calm, empathetic, and strong. Often, kids don’t know what they are feeling. When we stay strong, calm, and empathetic, our kids only have to deal with their confusing emotions, not ours.
Sound off: How do you respond when your kid expresses anxiety, sadness, frustration, or another uncomfortable emotion?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Do you feel safe telling me when you feel tough things like frustration, sadness, and anger? Why or why not?”