Helping Kids Regulate Emotions: Guiding instead of Stopping

Guiding instead of Stopping

My husband has gotten most of my family into watching Duck Dynasty and now the Robertson’s are quoted frequently around our house. The favorite quote has to be Phil saying “happy, happy, happy”. Inadvertently, people have the expectations that they and their children should be happy, happy, happy all the time. People know this isn’t true when you say it aloud but unconsciously it drives how we react. 

When kids are sad, we try to cheer them up or if all else fails use “if you keep crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.” When they are angry, we expect them to calm down by sitting in a chair and being quiet. When they are frustrated, we reason with them about why they should be more patient. It is easy to fall into a pattern of only permitting kids to be happy. I think part of what drives this is not knowing how to let kids show emotions. 

A place to start is to think of your job as guiding rather than stopping how they express emotions. As a guide, you can place boundaries on what is acceptable and not acceptable, i.e. if your are mad you can hit and punch your pillow in your room but you can not hit and punch your sister. You can offer suggestions of how to cope with the feelings, i.e. would you like to talk to me about what those kids said at recess or do you want to be alone for a while

Perhaps, the least used but most helpful is you can listen and show that you hear how they are feeling.  As adults we often need someone just to listen to us as we are complaining about something that happened. Knowing that someone cares and is listening helps us feel supported, helps us calm down, and helps us think through what happened. For young kids, it might just look like reflecting that someone made you mad. For older kids, it might be listening and asking what they think about should happen next.

There will be happy, happy, happy days but not every day. For the days that aren’t, think about how you can guide children through it instead of trying to prevent negative feelings from happening. 

-Jennifer