Homebuilders - Managing big emotions

By: Liz Griffiths

Here at Homebuilders, we have noticed an increase in children and young people experiencing a range of difficult emotions and to a much higher level than before. Anxiety and anger are on the rise, and parents are worried about how to cope and how to help their little ones cope, too.  

I would love to talk about how we – the big people in their world – can help children manage these big emotions. The jargon calls this “co-regulation” and describes it as the supportive process between caring adults and young people that fosters our children’s ability for self-regulation. In other words, the way we adults can stay calm and show our kids that we have got them and are there to help support them, no matter how overwhelmed they may be feeling.

Overall, our job is to keep it together (as much as possible) – keeping ourselves calm and showing our kids how to be calm and get through difficult feelings. We all know that’s easier said than done at times, depending on how busy we are, how tired we are or how overworked we may be.

Imagine feelings as waves, they build up in us and our children over time, gathering energy before they crash on the shore. This process can happen over time or quickly, and it can seem like the feelings have come from nowhere. Either way, that wave of emotion is trying to tell us something. Maybe the kid is scared or worried and when it crashes it shows up as anger.

We will only find out what is going on for the young person if we first pay attention to our own emotions, trying not to be triggered into reacting by yelling or getting angry, but responding by validating their feelings. For example, “you seem angry, that must feel awful”.

By merely acknowledging feelings and reflecting back to them what you are seeing, you are showing them that you hear them and you accept them. You may need to give them a little time and space, or they may simply need a big hug. But mainly you are staying calm and not reacting or getting into negotiations, and then they can process their emotions more quickly.

Nigel Latta has an excellent approach that he calls, “Now I know my ABCs”. He says we need to remember our ABCs which means, “Always Be Calming” (calming, not calm). Basically, he says that even when it feels impossible, try to stay as “calming” as possible because that’s the most significant influence you have on your little ones and teens on helping them let that wave crash and the energy disappear. His emphasis is on us being a calming influence, so when life gets stressful, and kids get overwhelmed, try to remember your ABCs – even though you feel like screaming.

Liz Griffiths, Family support worker


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