Expressing our emotions appropriately
Emotions are part of being human and being made in God’s image. We can all think of examples where God has been sad, angry, jealous or happy. We are told that it is ok to be angry as long as we do not sin.
So how can we learn to express our emotions in a safe way? Here are a couple of suggestions and we would like to hear the ways you have dealt with emotions and taught your children how to express them.
Children will get their cues from their parents and copy their behaviour, so we need to make sure that we are dealing with our emotions in a godly way and demonstrating self control before we can teach our children.
Always acknowledge a child’s feelings and validate them. Help them put a label on the feeling so that ‘anger’ is not used as a mask for feelings such as confusion, sadness, annoyance, hurt etc. Once a feeling has a name, then you can deal with it better.
If possible step in early before a full blown tantrum erupts. Encourage the child to use their words and describe the feeling they have and the situation that may be causing it. Brainstorm ideas of how to deal with it and give examples from your experience. Encourage the child to think of ways out of the situation. E.g. a child is getting frustrated because they cannot build a tower – ask them what they can do about it and make suggestions like ‘ask someone to help’ or maybe ‘put the blocks in a different pattern’ etc.
Do not take on the burden of your child's emotions/problems. i.e. it's not your job to "fix" everything (whether that means solving the problem or bribing/cajoling them out of their emotion etc) - the child needs to learn to do that themselves. It's important that the child takes ownership of both the problem and their emotional response, which empowers them to do something about it (with the parent available to support, advise and possibly assist).
For pre-verbal children the idea of ‘calm hands’ works well. Ask the child to clasp their hands together and sit looking at them. The focus it takes to do this helps settle the child down.
Consider telling your child about ‘grumpies’, little creatures that jump onto you when you are not happy. The only way to get rid of them is to smile. By externalizing the problem like this the child is given more control of doing something about the feeling. Jesus used this idea with Legion.
Children need to be taught about emotions and strategies to deal with them in quiet times and then reminded of the ideas when they are beginning to express the emotions.
Emotions are OK and need to be expressed. Do not teach a child to be afraid of them, but rather to learn to control them.
Never try to buy a child out of a tantrum or feed them out of being sad or reward them for expressing anger in a destructive way.
Cuddle the child if appropriate or use time out or time in, depending on the age and situation. Always talk about it afterwards and help them to understand their emotions, the effect it has on them and others around them. This is a long process that will constantly need attention throughout the life of your child.