Emotions – The Precious Gifts of Life TexT: KuanG-shan wan imaGe: web
My 5-year-old boy threw a temper tantrum again, when he found out that he couldn’t attend that party,” said a frustrated mother. “He is extremely anxious and melts down in public when things happen unexpectedly. It is very embarrassing.” The boy’s parents described how helpless they were in this situation. A child’s emotions and subsequent behaviors are one of the main challenges in parenting. However, emotions are precious gifts. Emotions help us to be aware of what we need, and what others might need. They also open the door for others to understand us more deeply, and allow us to build connection and closer interpersonal relationships with others. Meanwhile, emotions can sometimes protect us from harm and remind us to care for ourselves. Thus, if parents could guide their child to be friends with his or her own emotions, it would benefit them for a lifetime. Before we talk about how to help the child, it’s crucial to remind the parents to first take good care their own emotions. When parents have trouble facing and accepting their own feelings, it is also impossible for them to accept the feelings expressed by their child. The inner state of the parents almost always has an effect on their child. For example, if a mother is getting anxious about the reaction of her son, and he senses that anxiety, it is likely that his level of anxiety will escalate accordingly. In addition, the mother’s judgment can be blinded by her own anxiety, which could further hinder her seeing what’s going on with her son, not to mention offering the assistance 26
the boy may need. To help your child process his/her emotions, the very first thing you should do is to accept your own feelings, settle yourself, regain your composure, and think clearly. Once your mind is in the right place, you can begin on the road of helping your child to understand and learn from their emotions. Here are the important steps you should follow: 1. Understanding any emotion could be a great opportunity for you to understand your child better. You are a keen observer, being sensitive to the child’s verbal and non-verbal communication (facial expressions, t o n e o f v o i c e, b o d y g e s t u r e s etc.). Based on your observations and your instincts, you can make several guesses as to what feelings and emotions your child might experience. 2. Respect and accept the child’s feelings unconditionally. Try to figure out the meanings and needs behind his or her emotions. Remember: all feelings and wishes are acceptable. Not all actions and behaviors are acceptable (cited from The Gottman Institute). 3. S h o w yo u r u n d e rsta n d i n g a n d empathy by verbally recognizing your child’s feelings, needs or motivations, as well as non-verbally being attentive at that moment. Let your child have this chance to experience full acceptance, even when things are out of control. 4. H e l p y o u r c h i l d i d e n t i f y t h e i r emotions, and bring your child into the self-awareness of his/her emotional button. Giving an abstract feeling a concrete name will give
the child a sense of security and control. Sometimes I use a feelings chart or drawings of different facial expressions to help my child clients point out, clarify, and validate their feelings. 5. Brainstorm with your child to find out strategies to channel their flood of emotions, or alternatives to solve the problem. Limits or boundaries have to be set firmly when venting anger in unacceptable ways, such as hitting people or smashing things. A child needs to learn appropriate ways to handle their emotions within a safe and consistent structure. Every child is unique and every parent has his or her own unique way to discipline and interact with their child. There is no perfect parenting style, but by being willing to listen, to learn and to adjust, the parents can make a huge difference in a child’s life. Through walking into the inner world of your child’s emotions, I hope all parents can create a strong, warm and trusting parent-child relationship within the family.
Kuang-Shan Wan h a s a M a s t e r 's i n Counseling from the University of North Texas, USA with a license to practice in Taiwan. Her counseling areas include play-art therapy and child-parent relationship therapy.
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