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((*This post was updated July 2020 to be gender inclusive*))
I know how hard it is to see your child struggle with difficult emotions and not know how to help!
So, I put together some ideas to help you get started.
The following tips are intended to help children and tweens manage emotions in ways that will really stick for them, and that are really accessible for you.
Once these important roots are established, your children will be empowered to use their unique toolkit throughout their lives to overcome obstacles and support happiness.
The first one is something before you even get to the point of implementing a tool to support managing the emotion:
Acknowledge and allow the emotions to exist.
A lot of times, the fear or the stigma of having the emotion itself is something that causes not only tweens, but people of all ages, to go inward and feel like they can’t even talk about it.
Children, especially during the tween years get the idea that it’s something shameful to feel difficult emotions.
They gain the impression that their complex feelings are unique to them and that no one else feels the ways they do.
So, the first steps are: to acknowledge the fact that their emotions are real and worthy of expression, and to allow space for them to exist without minimizing them or trying to stop them in any way.
When you create a safe space for your children to express their emotions, you offer them a huge benefit.
The next thing that’s important to do is discuss things that trigger the difficult emotions.
One big mistake people make when they’re talking about emotional triggers is to ask closed-ended questions.
Closed questions look something like, “Do you ever feel angry? Do you ever feel embarrassed?”
In this case, there’s already assumption built into the question that there’s a right or wrong answer.
You can choose ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
So, if you ask your child whether or not they get mad or sad, for self-preservation, the answer has to be, No.
Because you’re not supposed to have difficult emotions, right?
Tweens of both genders often view big emotions as dangerous.
For girls, they tend to consider strong emotions a sign of imperfection.
For boys, they’re often sent the message that if they express their emotions, they’ll be thought of as weak.
We need to create a safe space for kids to answer with the truth.
Here’s a way you can ask about emotions as an open-ended question: “What are some of the things that make you feel angry?”
When you frame the question this way, it creates the chance for an open-ended response and avoids the terse, yes or no answer.
This question implies that of course you’re going to get angry, so the stigma is gone.
Now, there’s space to start talking about some of the things that do make you angry.
Another aspect that is important to address when you’re talking about triggers is, ‘Where do you feel it in your body when you have the emotion?‘
Talking about where you feel things in your body establishes the mind-body connection and brings in a new piece of information you can use to help yourself find balance.
The next time your tween complains that it makes her mad when her brother takes her stuff.
Or, your son is frustrated about something that happened with a friend at school, trying asking,
‘Where do you feel that in your body? Do you feel that in your chest, do you feel that in your stomach?’
The more you give kids access to tools to understand themselves better, the more they’ll be able to tap into their inner wisdom to guide them to the tools that are the best fit for the moment.
Before you suggest new tools for your son or daughter to try or share things that helped you, (even though that is going to be helpful) start by asking another open-ended question of, ‘What are the things that already help you?‘
Start by bringing already-existing strategies and strengths into discussion.
Ask, What things help you when you feel embarrassed? What things help you when you feel lonely? What works for you when you’re feeling really stressed?
When you start here, you’re not only gathering tools and strategies, you’re empowering your children to realize they already have access to a lot of inner and outer resources.
Spot Red Flags
When you have a conversation with your tween about their strengths and resources, if it’s difficult for them to come up with ideas, this can give you clues into potential gaps in their learning.
If there are some areas where they don’t have strategies, you’ll gain valuable information about where you need to focus to get them the help they need.
It’s important to remember that everyone has their own recipe for what’s going to help them manage each different emotion.
But, that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable in many ways when you share times you’ve struggled with difficult emotions with your kids.
I started doing this with my daughter before she could talk.
I talk to her and allow her to witness me dealing with anger and stress. I share how I’m struggling, how it’s difficult for me, the things I’m making mistakes with, the things I’m trying and the things that help.
When you share not only your strategies but also your struggles to develop emotional management tools, it helps your children in two important ways:
1. A chance to see potential tools they may consider trying and adding to their toolkit
2. An opportunity to witness normalizing having all kinds of emotions
Now that you’ve got the important foundations set, you need to bring all your strategies together into something tangible, like a written list.
Having something tangible you can look at is helpful especially when you’re talking about big emotions, because when tensions are high, it can be difficult to remember some of the simplest things, like, taking deep breaths, getting some fresh air or calling a friend.
When you have something you can look at, it helps remind you of the tools you already have.
The other benefit is to empower children to access their strategies on their own.
Even though the big goal is to normalize emotions and bring them into the forefront, the reality is that it can still feel really vulnerable and overwhelming to be dealing with these kinds of feelings, especially sometimes for the first time.
So, if your kids have something tangible they can take and then be alone in their room and look through, it’s something hugely empowering you can do for them.
It can also be helpful especially if someone’s dealing with a higher level of emotion like anxiety or panic.
For example, if your daughter or son deals with anxiety or has panic attacks, then having those strategies in their list along with strategies for the other emotions, it can be a way that both helps the anxiety feel a little less vulnerable and gives easy access to the tools to support it.
One last bonus tip…if you’re serious about empowering your tweens with the tools they need to take on any emotional challenge that come their way, you’ll see the best results with small steps and consistency.
But, where to start?
You need my 108 tips for Balancing Your Kid’s Chakras PDF.
It’s a comprehensive list divided into chakra categories, so you can work on the most important stuff first!
Click the image below to get your copy.