Helping Children To Deal With Big Emotions by Kate Duggan kateduggan.co.uk
It can be bewildering when your child has a meltdown, as the reason for it often seems pretty minor. However, while children may think they’re upset because their sibling got an extra sweet or because they want to carry on watching TV, there’s often an underlying issue. Tiredness, hunger and sugar crashes can all make children over-emotional. Of course, children often won’t realise why they’re feeling like they do and may be very quick to tell you that no they’re not hungry, they’re cross because you’re just being SO UNFAIR. Children also often store up any anxieties and let them loose in a safe place, i.e. at home. An argument with a friend at school, for instance, can result in a shouting match over switching the TV off at home. Or, if your child is worried that you might love their siblings more than you love them, a perceived unfairness can be a trigger to letting that worry come out. A worry box can be a useful tool for discovering any underlying anxieties that may be bothering your child. Help them to decorate a cardboard box and write ‘Our worry box’ on the
side. Encourage your child to write down when something is worrying them, and to pop it in the box. If they’re too young to write their worry down, they could draw it or ask you to write it for them. Just the act of getting it down on paper can sometimes help children to work through the issue. Pick a quiet time, when your child seems at ease, to take out a piece of paper and discuss the worry. If your child is still feeling anxious about the issue, they can put it back in the box. Otherwise they can throw it away. COPING WITH A MELTDOWN A meltdown is usually fast and furious, but short lived. Speaking in a low, soothing voice can help children to calm down. Just repeating that they’re OK and that you’re here can be all that’s needed. Keeping calm when you’re being screamed at is certainly difficult, but reciprocating will just escalate the situation. If you need to walk away and take a few minutes to breathe deeply, then do so. Young children aren’t always capable of logic, so attempting to reason with them often won’t help. Likewise, telling them to
calm down, to stop crying, or to ‘suck it up’ will just make things worse. While giving in to your child’s demands can sometimes diffuse the situation, it won’t uncover any underlying causes for the meltdown and can make things worse in the long run. That being said, it’s always a good idea to properly consider their request before a situation escalates. It’s often very easy to say ‘no’ without actually considering whether there’s room to meet halfway. Once your child has calmed down, you might want to sit with them while they eat a nonsugary snack. Big emotions can be scary and tiring for children. It will take years for them to develop the mental capacity to be able to properly control their emotions, so don’t try to make them feel guilty about losing control. Instead, ask whether they want to talk about what just happened and about how they’re feeling. A hug can go a long way towards making both of you feel better too.
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