The smile on our child's face lights up our world. Their giggles and laughs fill our hearts with joy and we do everything within our capacity to keep them happy. And yet we struggle everyday with tantrums, meltdowns, fits of anger and bawling dysregulated children. Let's try to decipher the obvious and understand a little about human nature.
It is normal to feel a whole spectrum of emotions. It is healthy to feel anger, sadness, remorse, jealousy, etc. that are often labelled as undesirable behavior. When our children cry we often make statements like -- "Sunny is a happy boy, he doesn't like crying." "What are you angry about? It's not okay to be angry. Let's try to be happy", “Cheer up, buddy. There's nothing to feel sad about." Forcing your children to be happy all the time is a form of manipulation.
It's about time all caregivers realize that it is okay for children to be sad, angry or upset. Instead of making our children mask their negative emotions with unrealistic positivity, let's validate and help them identify the emotion that they're feeling. The next step is to offer safety. We are their safe space. Let us try to be patient and loving during their toughest times. Let's help them self-regulate by allowing them to express themselves. When children are dysregulated they have already shut down their listening. Reason and negotiation at such times often fail. A bribe or distraction may momentarily calm them down but I'm sure all of us have experienced the tears resurfacing soon enough.
Once we feel that they have calmed down, we can talk about what had happened and use reason now. They might not fully understand what's going on yet, but their developing brains are still processing all the information and absorbing them.
Here are a few ways to address our children's struggle without forcing positivity.
When our child says that don't want to leave their grandparent's house or cries about it, instead of saying “It’s okay, cheer up. I'll get you an ice cream” - we can say – “I know you're upset about leaving. We often feel sad when we have to say goodbye. Even I do.”
When our child is struggling with a task, they may throw objects or display other signs of frustration. Instead of scolding them and asking them to stop, we could say – “Oh, I see that you got upset when the tower that you built fell down. It can be little tricky. Let's try it again.” We as adults have to try and understand the cause of their frustration.What we are doing here is naming, normalising and helping children manage their feelings. The idea is simple and backed by science - emotions must not be suppressed or avoided.
Avoiding emotions or not letting children express their feelings, confuses them and they may grow up to be adults who lack empathy and struggle with the anxiety of maintaining a perfect life. Let us accept, acknowledge and help children grow up to adults who can handle the whole range of emotions with confidence.