Big Feelings – and how to deal with them?

How To Talk book cover 2012

I recently received this post in my How To Talk So Kids Will Listen 2016 group (currently closed to new members – new coaching programmes coming out soon on www.mindfulnessandlifecoaching.com – stay tuned)

‘I feel a bit at my wits end with H (3.5) at the moment. Very defiant and rude and yelling at me etc.? I just get down on his level and try to empathise and wait it out. However this is so hard with a 6 month old too.
He’s great with words and after will tell me “I had big feelings or I was So frustrated I just yelled” But after an hour it’s hard to remain chipper. I’m just so tired by this time of night from keeping my composure etc’ M.

Below is my  reply – but so many parents myself included struggle with this – showing empathy and validating emotion but not knowing how to move on!  I thought there might be some strategies there for you to try too?

‘Hi M. – I know what you mean – especially if the big feeling is directed angrily at you, it is exhausting to be patient and show empathy 🙂 For me, each kid and age and stage have been different with how it works best to respond to their big feelings. I like the approach by Dan Siegel (The Whole Brain Child) http://www.drdansiegel.com/books_and_more/– he says to empathise and allow feelings – and to help kids know how to process and move through them and his great advice is to get kids moving… This works for all my kids, but especially my boys – and for me too really!

So when overcome with a big feeling, 9/10, flipping the lid, reaction – it can feel really scary and overwhelming. By going for a walk, running, jumping 20x, racing out to the back fence and back – this can help to engage the ‘brake’ (mindfulness) part of the brain to help to dissipate the emotion enough to be able to make some good choices about what is needed… (for you and for them).   This isn’t distraction – as you still validate the emotion – instead it is teaching them a life skill;  when overwhlemed – move & make choices and decisions later.

I would usually discuss with kids when they are calm, ‘what will we do when there’s a big feeling?’ They may have one thing they do – or they may have several (you can put pictures up on the fridge). Then in the heat of the moment – if they choose not to do any of those agreed things – you role model it – by saying:  ‘ no worries, I can see you are sooo mad, I’m feeling (X) too – so I think I’ll run out to the clothesline and back (or whatever you have agreed on!) – come and join me when you are ready.’

This way too you are validating feelings, role modeling how to deal with them but also showing that your feelings are important too. That is the firm bit of kind & firm (Kind & Firm video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88Hux_EYyyc  )– respect for yourself, for others & for situation.

So it is great to teach kids I’ll validate your emotions, but if the anger is directed at me I can only listen for a short time – and then I need to do something to calm me down. It’s been great for me to build that understanding (slowly) in our house – that we all need to go and do what works for us to calm down – before we can then talk about it… (Video on Big Feelings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqmRtCviRDU )

I know for me personally – I have sometimes sat and stewed on an emotion and felt worse…but if I go for a drive or go for a walk or go outside I begin to feel better – and then solutions come. My friend once had her daughter at age 6 do the worst hysterical tantrum she had ever seen – at a beautiful serene hotel pool adn she was dumbstruck – couldn’t think of anything to say or do and then remembered Dan Siegel’s ‘MOVE” – so grabbed her hand and said ‘Mia lets run!!!’ It took two whole blocks before she felt the softening and the ending of the tears and then she could give her a hug and have a chat about the scenario. I love that story!

When we go camping, or to stay with others, – I still say to my kids – ‘what are you going to do if you feel overwhelmed and get really angry with someone – what is our agreed plan?’ In the past we have picked the ‘fighting’ tree – ‘if you want to fight with eachother you need to take it to the tree’ – 9/10 times – just the mere act of walking to the tree helps to calm the situation and for them to decide to come back! Harder with younger kids – but generally if you walk to the tree – you feel better and they follow?

Sorry to write so much but to me it has been the biggest issue to get my head around! What do you think, will any of this work? 🙂 Sara

It was great to receive M’s reply:

‘Thank you so much!! I will definitely get into this. I love the Move idea! I always have tried to yell into a pillow to show him that’s how I get frustrated.
I will love to try this with him to see if I can get in there in the moment he is so enraged.. If not right then I can talk to him afterward about doing it next time to see if it makes up feel better.
Thank you so so much for your guidance and words ❤️❤️❤️’

What do you think?  Anything helpful there to help you or your child when experiencing a big feeling?

Cheers, Sara 🙂

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