Helping children process and heal from strong emotions

My daughter, who’s on the verge of turning 3, recently had a brief scary moment where she couldn’t find me at the playground. Though it was less than a minute before she spotted me again, for a child that young, that’s a long time and it can really leave an impression.

As I scooped her up into my arms, she started to cry and said, “I was looking for you everywhere. I couldn’t find you!” In the moment, I empathized with her sadness and acknowledged that it had been really scary for her. I held her for a while and then suggested we ride the swings, which is her favorite thing to do at the park.

After this incident, occasionally, she’s wanted to talk about what had happened. Sometimes when we mention that playground, she’ll talk about “one time I didn’t know where you were,” or when we’re snuggling at bedtime, she’ll suddenly start reminiscing about it and going over the details of it again. She also occasionally replays other upsetting moments — like when she was running outside her brother’s school and skinned her knee. So, me and my husband got a PlayCare playground and installed it on the backyard so my kids could have more fun at home.

Often parents try to stop their child from reliving a sad or scary moment, worrying that it will only upset them more. Since the moment has passed, it could seem like nothing good can come from being sad over it again. In reality, many children need to talk about upsetting moments multiple times as they work to process the intense emotions they felt. While it may seem counterproductive, this helps them to work through it.

Trying to stop a child from discussing it again can actually cause them to stuff the emotions inside and never really resolve their pain. Talking about it can help them to feel better.

When my daughter brings it up now, after I acknowledge her feelings again, I also remind her, “But then you found me and I hugged you. Then, I pushed you on the swings.” I want to make sure she remembers how I comforted her afterwards and that we turned it into an opportunity to connect. This way, it doesn’t seem quite as upsetting, and it helps to turn it into more of a positive memory than one that makes her sad. I hope that in this way I’m helping her to process her emotions and to show that I’m there to support her through them.

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Inspired to read more about children and strong emotions?

Identifying emotions

Creating space to “hold” your child’s

Helping children through divorce

Stay patient while teaching toddlers how to handle strong emotions

Tantrums

Tantrums are opportunities to connect

Riders on the Tantrum Storm (Part 1)

Riders on the Tantrum Storm (Part 2)

Editor’s Pick: Emotional abuse, a dark form of children’s maltreatment

How little we really know about the topic of shame

Raising compassionate kids in a violent world

logo that hopefully doesnt change colorEditor’s Note:  This post was originally published on 6/24/2016. Through this year’s AP Month theme, “Nurturing Peace: Parenting for World Harmony,” we have been focusing on promoting peace and harmony in the home as well as around the world. This article is a great reminder that despite the many challenges violence can pose, we can still cultivate compassion and peace in our children.

API promotes parenting practices that create strong, healthy emotional bonds between children and their parents. For life.

So they can take those bonds with them into their adult lives and share them with their children. And their children can do the same.

A life cycle of compassion and connection.

Today, we are featuring resources from the National Association of School Psychologists that offer guidelines for dealing with the difficult subject of children and violence — in particular, war and terrorism.

In recent years, increasingly, there have been numerous heartbreaking mass shootings and terror activities in the United States and around the globe.

In the aftermath of such distressing incidents, many parents are wondering how to react: How much information? What and how should we communicate to our kids? And as we reflect on such painful incidents and move towards healing, another imperative question we need to ask ourselves is, What role do we play, as parents to children who will become the adults of tomorrow?

With ongoing wars, mass shootings and terrorist threats, it can be challenging to escape the display of violence from the extensive media and internet coverage — it’s a heavy dose for children to bear. While we should do our best to limit our kids’ exposure to violence, we should also acknowledge that this is the reality of the world we live in, and we need to navigate around helping children find comfort and provide them with the support they need. It is our responsibility as parents and caregivers to address our children’s emotional needs — to that end, they need us to help them understand and cope with the phenomenon of violence.

heart-pain-shadowIt’s unrealistic to think that we can completely shield our kids from being exposed to incidents, such as the recent one in Orlando. Albeit, as parents, we can foster a secure environment in our homes for our children to be resilient in the face of tragedies. API promotes a secure emotional bond in the parent-child relationship — cultivating trust, a sense of security, social competence, confidence, and empathetic qualities in a child…all of which are beneficial when experiencing adversities.

Open communication, honesty, and trust between a parent and a child are essential ingredients for developing a strong relationship — one that is valuable when dealing with sensitive, emotional-trigger situations. This guide explores tips for parents and educators to help children cope with terrorism.

Naturally, children may feel angry and frightened in their reaction to acts of violence. To help them work through emotionally charged issues in a positive way, is it helpful to teach them compassion, empathy, and kindness in our homes and our schools.

The following are some helpful tips to consider in promoting compassion and acceptance in crisis:

  1. Model compassion and acceptance of differences — Children take their emotional cues from the significant adults in their lives.
  2. Provide useful information — Accurate information about people, events, reactions, and feelings is empowering. Use language that is developmentally appropriate for children.
  3. Stop any type of harassment or bullying immediately — Make it clear that such behavior, in any form (in person, online, social media) is unacceptable. Talk to the children involved about the reasons for their behavior.
  4. Explore children’s fears — Even children who can describe what happened may not be able to express fears, questions, or describe assumptions or conclusions they may have made. Use activities, role-playing, and discussions to explore their fears about the events and their feelings about various groups from diverse cultures or lifestyles.
  5. Identify “heroes” of varying backgrounds involved in response to traumatic events — These include firefighters, police officers, rescue workers, military personnel, public officials, medical workers, teachers, faith leaders, public figures, and regular citizens who work to help keep students, families, schools, and communities safe.
  6. Read books with your children or students that address prejudice and hate — There are many, many stories appropriate for varying age groups that can help children think about and define their feelings regarding these issues.

Parents are their children’s first and most empowering role models. Meeting our children’s needs by nurturing them with sensitivity, kindness, and compassion serves as a model for children to observe and learn how to conduct themselves in this world. We are making the most precious investment there could be: As today’s children will become tomorrow’s adults, a life cycle of compassion and connection will pave the way for a more peaceful, compassionate world for future generations.

Editor’s Pick: Emotional abuse, a dark form of children’s maltreatment

“Growing up in a household where your emotions are either actively discouraged or punished, or simply ignored takes a toll on you, a developing child. You internalize the message that your feelings, your needs, your views don’t matter. It’s a belief that’s rooted in childhood feelings. That belief/feeling is powerful, and it stays with you throughout your life.” ~ Jonice Webb, PhD, in “Childhood Emotional Neglect: The Enemy of Assertiveness,” Psych Central

Sad ChildIn this week’s Editor’s pick, Attachment Parenting International is shedding light on a form of maltreatment of children that is often kept in the dark: emotional abuse. Unlike physical abuse, there is little awareness concerning emotional abuse — it’s less visible and is rarely covered by the media.

Emotional abuse is often misunderstood, as it’s complex and more difficult to recognize. Although it’s pervasive, and can be as damaging and painful to children as physical and sexual trauma, it’s not considered as troublesome as physical abuse.

Emotional abuse of a child is commonly defined as a pattern of behavior by parents or caregivers that has negative mental impact on the child. It’s also referred to as psychological maltreatment. Some examples of mental abuse are:

  • name-calling
  • verbally insulting
  • shaming or humiliating
  • threatening violence (with or without carrying out threats)
  • ridiculing or criticizing the child’s appearance, abilities or fears
  • failing to express warmth and tenderness to the child
  • neglecting to show interest in the child’s thoughts, feeling or activities.

Emotional needs are intrinsic to our nature as human beings. Attachment Parenting promotes an approach that applies sensitive parental response and practicing nurturing parenting methods that foster strong emotional bonds — also known as secure attachment — between children and their parents. Secure attachment, trust and mutual respect are the building blocks of a strong, healthy emotional foundation that follows children into adulthood.

With increasing awareness and evolved societal norms, many people move away from spanking and other forms of physical abuse, check this article about how a sex crime lawyer can help if this happens at home. Consequently, however, there is more temptation to shift that punishment attitude toward verbal responses — which may seem innocuous — not realizing that some common responses are actually a form of emotional abuse. Here are a few examples of such comments:

  • “I wish you were more like your brother.”
  • “If you don’t do as I say, I will leave you!”
  • “You’re the reason Mommy is sad.”
  • “Shut up!”
  • “You are a bad boy.”
  • “You think you’re so special, don’t you?”

Verbal abuse is the most common form of emotional maltreatment and results in long-term harm. As noted in this Health Day article, “Yelling at Children (Verbal Abuse),” research shows that verbally abused children are more likely to:

  • become victims of abuse later in life
  • become abusive themselves
  • become depressed and self-destructive later in life
  • develop anxiety.

We are all familiar with adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” But children and adults who have been verbally abused will tell you otherwise: Words are powerful and they do hurt, especially when inflicted upon children by their parents — the leading authority figures in their life and the adults children look to for protection, not only from physical harm but also emotional damage.

There are some who excuse name-calling, shaming or other forms of abuse as effective means to discipline or “toughen up” kids — an outdated idea to make them more resilient and better adapt to the “real world” — when, in fact, the contrary is true: These patterns of behavior by parents produce deep emotional and mental scars that undermine self-esteem and affect the ability to have healthy, trusting relationships.

In this Psych Central article, “Childhood Emotional Neglect: The Enemy of Assertiveness,” Jonice Webb, PhD, uncovers that the reason assertiveness is so much more difficult for some people to learn and practice than others is because “assertiveness is most difficult for those who grew up in households that either actively or passively discouraged emotional expression,” both examples of childhood emotional neglect.

Emotional abuse is painful. It penetrates into the heart and the soul of a child who needs to be loved, cared for, and responded to with sensitivity and compassion by his caregivers — not ignored, not humiliated, and not insulted.

A 2015 study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, found that regardless of the type of maltreatment endured — physical, sexual or emotional — children suffered similar consequences. As reported by Reuters, Dr. William Copeland, a psychiatry researcher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, USA, stated that: “This study is about righting a longstanding error and prejudice about the differences between these common childhood adversities,” adding: “It suggests that whether we are talking about prevention, screening or treatment, our notions of childhood mistreatment need to be broader and more holistic than they have been. There are no hierarchies when it comes to child maltreatment.”

It’s alright that you need me

yvette lambMy child, I want to say this to you: It’s alright that you need me.

Needing is good. Needing is natural. When you cry for me, when you wrap your arms around me, when you sigh because you feel happy in my arms…you’re behaving just as you should. You are finding out where you fit in this world, discovering all there is around you and learning how to feel safe.

You are young and new and so many things at the same time: brave and unsure, loud and quiet, shy and confident, content and needy. You are all of these things, and that is alright.

I have worried before. We spend a lot of time together, which is lovely for me and, I hope, for you, too. But I sometimes have thoughts like, Will you struggle to settle without me? and Should you be more self-assured?

Then I remember, you have your whole life to be bold and independent. And what a big life you will have.

I want to reclaim need and dependence as good things. I want to remind everybody that these are qualities, not inadequacies. These natural urges ensure protection, security, safety. They are a big part of love and trust: You trust me enough to depend on me, to allow me to see your need.

It is alright to need people. It is alright to rely on them. It is alright to know that there are people in your world that will stand by you, on whom you can depend. In fact, it is more than alright — it is wonderful.

And you my little boy — in your own time — will take tentative, then hurried, steps away from me. You will let go. Then I’m quite sure I will wonder why I ever worried that you needed me so much, and I’ll miss those arms around my legs as I try to make dinner, those soft snores on my pillow that leave no room for my head, and those contented sighs as I scoop you up and make everything alright with a kiss.

I’ll miss the days when just being me, being with you, was all you needed.

It isn’t always easy to be needed, especially in the early and intense days when only I would do so much of the time. But I know also that it is a gift to hold such a big space in your heart. You trust that I will be there, that I won’t let you down, that I love you wholly — and to you, that is everything. You and I are everything, and everything is enough.

So need me, call me, demand me, exhaust me. And then smile — and I’ll be there for it all — every day.

And of course I will cheer you on, as almost each day it seems you need to do more things by yourself: take off your shoe, undo your zipper, brush your teeth. You are so proud! You need this, too, and I will never stand in your way. But for the times you need me, be it a hug between plays or holding on tight as we navigate something new, I will be here. To give you what you need, for as long
as you need it.

As your world gets bigger, I won’t be able to provide everything that you need, but for now, I can — and that makes me very privileged. So keep on keeping on, and I will, too — watching you lean, then lead, then leave.

So remember, it’s alright that you need me, and whether you know it or not, little one…I need you, too.

Empathy: The Foundation of Emotion Coaching

This post was written by Stephanie Petters, coordinator of the API Reads program.

The discussion of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child  by John Gottman, PhD is continuing to unfold as we near the end of the book.  An excerpt from the book:

“When children feel emotionally connected to their parents and the parents use this bond to help kids regulate their feelings and solve problems, good things happen … our studies show that children who are Emotion-Coached do better in terms of academic achievement, health, and peer relationships. They have fewer behavior problems, and are better able to bounce back from distressing experiences. With emotional intelligence, they are well prepared to handle the risks and challenges that lie ahead.”

Raising and Emotionally Intelligent Child book coverAPI Reads is Attachment Parenting International’s online book club on Goodreads, but it’s more than a club for people who love to read books—it’s a place to share concerns and ideas to strengthen the connection to our children and families as well as share our own personal experiences.

For example, in Chapter 4 of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, the author explores the topic of avoiding criticizing, humiliating or mocking your child:

“Minute by minute, well-intentioned parents chip away at their kids’ self-confidence by constantly correcting their manners, deriding their mistakes, and unnecessarily intruding as kids try to perform the simplest tasks. They absent-mindedly describe their children with labels that stick like glue to the child’s self-concept. (Bobby is “hyperactive.” Karie is “the quiet one.” Bill is “lazy.” Angie is “our little Puddin’ Head.”) It’s also common to hear parents make jokes for other adults at a child’s expense, or to see parents mock their children’s sadness, using worlds like, ‘Don’t be such a baby.’ “

Here are reader responses to the above:

    • I loved this chapter and underlined so much of it!
    • As a former piano teacher, I have observed a lot of “constantly correcting their manners, deriding their mistakes, and unnecessarily intruding as kids try to perform the simplest tasks.” I make every attempt not to label a child–my own or a student.
    • A HUGE pet peeve of mine is lazy compliments! “Good!” Oh please! I am so glad the author address this on page 112. It’s about specific, not global, praise for an action.
    • I miss Mr. Rogers (page 113), and I do think the busy style of many children’s shows is just silly and talks down to the children.
    • I do find myself wanting to give sermons to correct any kind of vices that could be long-lasting, such as speaking disrespectfully or lying.
    • I appreciate giving my son as many opportunities as possible to make choices and decisions. I think this is such a great building step for self-regulation and the ability to take care of himself as he grows older. I give him lots of say over food, clothing and sometimes time. We do limit computers and video games to the weekends. I agree it can make such obedient and cooperative children whose sense of purpose gets stunted when they bump into pleasing others as an adult. I’m working through this now as an adult!
    • I’m a big hugger and back rubber. It’s amazing to see my son’s tension melt when he is touched with tenderness. (page 124)
    • “It is the parent who determines what behavior is permissible.” (page 126) This is where I struggle. I struggle to know what I should be expecting of my son and what I should allow as part of his growing and development.
    • GREAT CHAPTER!

What else have we been discussing? We’ve been discussing empowering your child with choices, the scaffolding technique for praise, not imposing solutions and more!

Everyone is welcome to join the discussion—or simply to follow the conversation—at API Reads on GoodReads. We’ll be discussing Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child for the remainder of December. Our next book for discussion starting on January 1 is The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland. Support API by using this link to purchase The Science of Parenting for January.

 

What is Misbehavior?

“Children don’t misbehave, they simply behave to get their needs met.”

This quote comes from Dr. Thomas Gordon, but other psychologists and parent educators have said the same thing. Dr. Jane Nelsen devotes a whole section of her book, Positive Discipline, as well as lessons in her parenting classes to understanding children’s mistaken goals of behavior. The underlying concept is that behaviors like crying, whining, tantrums, lying, hitting, destroying property, etc. all stem from a child’s unmet need. There is something that child is needing that they’re not getting, so they behave in a way to try to meet those needs. Dr. Nelsen calls them “Mistaken Goals” because the child is often mistaken about how to behave in a way to meet their need

Last week, I saw a lady set a full cup of iced coffee next to her on the bench near where her 1-year-old daughter was toddling around. The little girl kept going over to it and picking it up, wanting to turn it over. The mom continually called her “naughty” and asked if she needed a time-out. If this mother understood the relationship between needs and behavior, she’d know that her daughter was not being naughty and that a time-out won’t solve anything. At one year old, this child’s need is to explore her environment using all of her senses; she is not misbehaving, she’s doing exactly what a one-year-old needs to do.

Looks like someone "needed" to see if the cake was cool!

We all behave in ways to get what we need. If I need something to eat, I’ll go to the kitchen and make myself some food. If need some order in my life, I’ll clean my house. If I need a renewed sense of community, I’ll turn on my sociability as I make an effort to connect with friends and neighbors. If I’m feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated, I might subconsciously distance myself from others as I attempt to carve out some alone time for myself (if I don’t realize what I need), or I might just say, “Hey, I need some alone time,” (if I do).
Continue reading “What is Misbehavior?”

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