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Little bodies, big emotions

Emotional regulation is learned so we must give our children grace as they experience big feelings. The calmer you can stay, the calmer you'll teach your kids to be in stressful or frustrating situations.

A few personal examples that have helped me learn to manage big emotions from my little guy:

1. When driving my toddler home from daycare, he was being so sweet and adorable so I exclaimed "you make my heart so happy!" Later that night, I was attempting to potty train him, and he was melting down. In-between sobs, he looked and me and asked, "Am I making your heart not happy anymore?". As my heart broke, I reassured him that he ALWAYS makes my heart happy.

Although I was frustrated and didn't want to spend an hour of my evening in the bathroom with an upset child, I practiced patience and empathy. I maintained a calm demeanor, which will ultimately help teach his nervous system how to remain calm in the face of frustration too. Am I always calm? Of course not, but I've learned that kids feel emotions as strong as we do but have little control over them.

2. Recently, my little boy was acting out, a lot. I tried being firm, which only made him angrier. So instead, I gave him a big hug and told him I understand it’s not easy to control your emotions - that when you’re mad, it’s hard to not yell, hit or kick. As his arms were tightly wrapped around me, he responded with "sometimes I can (control them) and sometimes I can’t." His anger melted away as I showed him that I was calmly and compassionately there for him even when he felt out of control. It’s not always easy, but I try to lead with empathy.

Of course, there is always the art of distraction. Try to get kids focused on something else so they forget about what is currently bothering them. That won't work though if they're so elevated that their emotions take over. If they're really heightened and won't even accept a hug, then sit patiently and wait. A hug has always worked for my little one, but my therapist, who I admire as a fellow mama and respect as an expert, has offered this advice.

3. This past weekend, my husband and I threw a youth baseball opening day event. I started volunteering my time when my stepson was a part of this league and now that he's aged out, I'm staying on the board of directors for my 3-year-old. I was so excited to have him participate in the opening day festivities, but my expectations were bigger than reality. He became my shadow and wouldn't leave my side as I tried to throw an event for 400 people. Multiple times he melted down and refused to let other trusted adults watch him. And when I was putting his t-ball jersey on him, you would have thought I was physically hurting him as he was screaming bloody murder. I became quite frazzled and stressed out.

We managed to get through it though, and I can proudly say I never lost my cool. Later that night my little love told me "There were too many people, so I got a little cranky." ("Little cranky" was an understatement!) Not only was I so impressed that he could recognize the reason behind his meltdowns, but I was also impressed with myself for not melting down right alongside him. He was overwhelmed. What he needed was comfort and a feeling of safety, not discipline. Looking back, I could have done an even better job of being there for him during his time of distress, but my frustration made that difficult.

Every challenging parenting situation is an opportunity for growth. Motherhood is a journey - we're all learning and improving every day. In challenging situations, try to: 1. Validate your child's feelings. 2. Stay patient and understanding. 3. Listen and repeat back. Emotional regulation is not easy for adults, let alone kids. The more you can try to relate, by putting yourself in their shoes, and calmly respond, the more your connection will grow while teaching them important regulation skills that will serve them well in the future.


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