Helping Our Child Manage Their Emotional Backpack
How we teach our kid and ourselves to take the stuffed feelings out of their backpack?
To heal anger, they have to go into the more vulnerable emotions that are driving it. (Grief or fear). When people have a full emotional backpack they are very rigid and they try to control themselves and they end up trying to control their environment and you. They become demanding, defiant and rude. They go into fight, flight or freeze and ask for treats, screen time or start a fight. Sometimes they are just overwhelmed. They are almost ready to cry, so they get wheely or whiny. Whining drives parents crazy, but, is better to have a whining child than an angry child.
How can we help our kids? Laughter does wonders. Laugh when you can. Laughing helps reduce the top layer of stuff in the backpack. It reduces the stress hormones which are signaling the child to lash out. Anxiety makes a child to be more reactive and less cooperative.
Laughter reduces the anxiety. It transforms the body chemistry by reducing the stress hormones. It also increases the oxytocin and other feel good hormones, so your child feels better and feels more connected to you. Any time you laugh with another human being, you are connecting with them. Use laughter anytime you suspect a full backpack.
A whining child might be able to pull it together if we become playful. But if a child is really overwhelmed just like adults, they just need to let out their feelings and cry. Laugh when you can and cry when you have to. As you are helping your kids with emotions, remind yourself: Don't get provoked. They are having a hard time, create safety, accepting their emotions.
For example you can say, “You seem sad and mad, hun” and give them space if they want to talk. The message you want to give your kids is that they have parents that understand, that it is not bad to feel anger, shame, grief, or fear. That crying is needed sometimes to empty the back pack and that sometimes life does not work the way we want but we can get the most out of it.
We are teaching the kids resilience so they can cope with difficulties in the future. Embracing emotions helps your child accept her own emotions, helps her feel them so they diminish and they are not in the backpack, making her more anxious and also helps her build resilience.
You may notice that your child’s crying makes you uncomfortable, that when your child cries you just want them to be quiet and you will do anything to stop them from crying. That is a normal reaction. We are designed by our biology to respond to our child’s crying to try to meet their needs so the stop crying.
This could be some old baggage, maybe when you were a child, no one took good care of you. Maybe you were smacked or told to shut up. I encourage you, if it makes you uncomfortable when your child cries, just notice and acknowledge it. It is a message.
Maybe the message is your child has a need - a need to cry, a need to feel understood - that you can meet. Never punish a child for crying. Every time we notice our feelings and resist acting on them, we are building mental muscle, or you are building neural pathways that allow your prefrontal cortex to override those messages that come from amygdala and the rest of your alarm system that say, “He’s crying!! It’s an emergency!!”
How do you help your kid regulate?
Empathy. We start with empathy. If your child expresses any emotion, if you respond by seeing it from their perspective and matching their emotion. You are creating a space of safety. That means that your child in general feels understood and safe to express their emotions. When kids are upset we always start with emotion and connection.
Then if kids are able to laugh, we get them laughing. If they start being very provocative, give them a bear hug. Maybe they will start laughing or maybe they start laughing and then burst into tears. That’s great, the laughter emptied out the top layer of stuff in the backpack and tears are now able to flow.
What does the child learn? Self regulation. They learn emotions are not dangerous. I can feel my emotions as they arise. I can choose whether to act on them or not. They learn also, others people emotions don’t scare me. I can relate to other people. I don’t have to stuff my emotions and then self-medicate. I can handle whatever life throws at me.
Parents often are worried that of they allow their kids to go into big emotions, the child will be spoiled or be a drama queen. But that is not what spoils children. Spoiled means a child doesn’t care what someone else feels or wants, they are only focused on what they want. These are kids that have not had their needs met, and they become very demanding.
If you want to avoid spoiling your kid let them have their feelings, but don't change your response. Don’t change what decision you have made when your child have big feelings. Feelings are messy. They are inconvenient. We all have old, unresolved feelings, triggers. Everyone has triggers from their childhood, and we are all working them through. Is like peeling an onion, as we get further down, the onion has less power in our lives.
There is less fear, there is less upset in our lives because we just sit with our feelings as they come up, we tolerate them and don't act upon them. We will have emotions all our lives. We will get triggered as long as we live. We can avoid getting hijacked by our old stuff by just staying aware, witnessing, accepting them and don’t acting on them.
Think of the acronym SHARE
- S-Soothe the child
- H- Help them with the emotions
- A- Allow all the emotions
- R-Regulate our own emotions
- E- Empathize
We share the child's emotional experience to help them develop high EQ and self-regulation.
Don’t worry about how well or how poorly your child regulates his or her emotions, just show up with empathy and you will see your child to make progress. Sooner or later, all kids can learn to regulate themselves, and it doesn’t happen from us clamping down on them and telling not to feel their feelings it happens from us empathizing with their experience.