Strong emotions are an essential part of being human. They enable us to love, feel joy, and connect with others. However, strong emotions - particularly uncomfortable feelings like sadness, anger, and fear - can be painful and hard to cope with. Children are not born knowing how to handle these powerful emotions. Perhaps you can think of examples from just this week when your own child struggled with anger or sadness! Learning to navigate their own emotions is one of the most important developmental tasks young children face. As a parent or caregiver, there is much you can do to help your child build skills to cope with big emotions. Validate your child's emotions... One of the most important things a caregiver can do to support an upset child is to validate their feelings. In the context of emotions, validation means communicating to your child that you hear they are upset and it is okay to feel that way. It is important to note that validating your child's strong emotions does not imply that you accept or approve of their behaviors following that emotion. For example, if your child is feeling angry about someone knocking their blocks over and yells or knocks their playmate's blocks in retaliation, you might say "Given how hard you worked on your block tower, I understand that you're feeling angry." By saying this, you are not communicating "... and it's great that you knocked over John's blocks!" but instead are simply sharing that you see they are upset and the emotion makes sense to you. Labeling your child's emotions helps to increase their emotional self-awareness. It also helps them begin to make connections between their experiences (my tower was knocked over) and emotions (and now I feel mad). This is a critical building block of learning to regulate emotions. Validation can also be very soothing to a child dealing with a painful feeling. It's important, however, to resist the urge to jump straight from validation to problem solving. ... and pause before problem solving It is almost always more effective to wait to talk through a difficult situation with your child when they are calm, rather than in the heat of a strong emotion. Think of a situation in your own life in which you felt strong emotions. How effectively could you take in language and think through your actions while still feeling intense emotions? Probably not very well! Children are the same, only to a greater degree because of their not-yet-fully-developed brains! Validate your child's difficult emotion first, then help them calm down. Later, when your child is calmer, you can discuss their emotion-related actions, give a consequence if needed, and problem solve for how they can cope more skillfully in the future. Of course, if your child's strong emotion caused them to do something unsafe, it is important to respond immediately. For example, by separating them from the playmate they hit. Once your child is calm, you canRead More
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