Updated: Aug 9, 2022
Parenting, in my opinion, is one of the hardest things we do. Managing the demands of home, work, and kids is a constant juggling act. While I can will myself to do more physical work based on the needs of my family and work fronts, what drains me the most is the emotional work around parenting.
When I see my kids in their big emotional moments, my subconscious programming is to rush and rescue them from it. It takes a lot of awareness, practice, and regulating skills to allow your kids to stay in their discomfort and for them to learn how to ride that wave.
One of the critical things I have learned is that my need to rescue them from their discomfort comes from my need to rescue myself from my own unease of seeing them in discomfort. So what I end up doing to relieve myself from that unease is also sending a signal to my kids that it’s not okay to be upset, sad, or scared.
A feeling we experience, whether positive (happy, excited, optimistic, etc.) or negative (angry, scared, sad, bored, etc.), is just the body’s response to the stimuli it encounters around itself. The feelings you experience are a natural response to the stimuli your sensory system is processing.
If you see that someone has brought a cake for you, all that visual and olfactory stimuli can make you feel happy. If your child just lost his toy in the park and is crying, he is mourning a violation of his expectation. What labels we give these feelings often decide how our kids react to these feelings. If your child is crying because he lost his toy and you tell him, “You have so many other toys at home, what's the big deal?” or, “I’ll get you another one, just stop crying now!”, it just makes the child feel that it is not okay to cry or be upset. S/he thinks, “Being upset, or being scared or sad is not something my parents approve of, which means it is probably a bad or dangerous thing and my feelings are invalid.”
The ideas that a child constantly experiences in his/her interactions with parents or caregivers stay in their mind and create a subconscious pattern of trying to avoid or escape from their inevitable emotions. This lack of acceptance of our core human responses creates an inability to cope with losses or failure in life. Several research findings confirm that deficits in emotion regulation are associated with depression, borderline personality disorder, substance-use disorders, eating disorders, and many other mental health challenges. As parents, it is helpful to understand the importance of emotion regulation and its far-reaching impacts on our children's lives.
So the next time you see your child upset, sad, or scared, it might be a good idea to ground yourself and be as regulated as you can (easier said than done!) and get curious with your kids about what they are feeling and help them regulate those feelings with your compassionate support.
Every experience we have with our kids is unique, so I believe in embracing the uncertainty associated with each experience and getting comfortable with it. Below, I share a general idea for a script to manage that uncertainty. You can build on it and customize it to help your kids with their “big emotions”.
Acknowledge: “I see that you are sad/angry/scared.”
Ask: “Do you want to tell me more?”
Normalize: “If I were in your place, I would be too.”
Support: “I am here for you if you need me.”
I completely understand that this prompt may not help for every situation, but it's mainly to give you an idea of what resources you need to be ready with (acknowledging, normalizing, curiosity, and compassion) to start de-escalating a challenging moment.
Don't be discouraged if you find it difficult to implement it. I request you to have compassion for yourself first. It is not easy for parents to always plug in the right actions during these challenging times because we have our own history of subconscious patterns that we learned growing up. If you long to unpack these subconscious patterns coming in the way of your parenting, parent coaching can help.