Do you have a child who struggles with emotional intensity? I do. There are a variety of reasons why children can lose control of their emotions. Some of these include but are not limited to these reasons:
- feeling out of control
- fear or anxiety
- a sense of unfairness
- feeling that they are not being heard
I’ve come to learn some things as I have worked with a child who struggles in this way. I’ve learned to listen with intention when he is sharing something with me. I also learned to understand that while his response to certain situations may seem unreasonable to me, they are in fact both true to his perception and true to his heart. Being so inconsiderate as to dismiss his emotions as invalid would end up leaving him feeling as if I don’t really care about him.I never want him to feel that way. I want him to feel loved and nurtured.
Loss of emotional control can present in several ways. We generally think of overwhelming anger, but you might also see episodes of uncontrollable and unexplained tears. Rocking, shaking or spinning can signify stress or even excitement. Over-excitement which may look like hyperactivity can lead to various other forms of emotional intensity, from joy to sorrow, or from excitement to anger, with little warning. Often it seems to me that these episodes come from times of over-stimulation.
Whatever the loss of emotional control looks like for your little one, you as a parent must remain in control and find ways to teach your child to do the same. So today I’m sharing my 5 quick tips for taming emotional outbursts regardless of what form they present themselves.
1. Prayer Even the youngest of children can learn to do this. When I teach my son to pray I tell him that God loves him and wants to hear his heart. I tell him that he can tell God anything. I tell him that after he tells God the things that are bothering him that he should ask God to help him to learn to control the things he says and does when he is feeling this way. Even if you are not a Christian, teaching your children how to identify why they feel the way they do and determining to learn to change the behavior is invaluable to the life and well being of your child.
2. Redirection I learned this skill when I worked as a foster parent. It does not work with all children, but it is a wonderful tool to keep in your mom bag of tricks. Simply by re-focusing the child on something else you can help stem the tide of emotions in the moment. This can be done through humor, get them laughing and they soon forget their anger. Another option is to try singing. This one works best for my son IF he is going to respond to redirection because he responds so well to music and rhythm. I am often able to alleviate anxiety or frustration through song. Offer to do something they love doing, by surprising them with reward instead of discipline they stop and refocus on the good thing about to happen. Again, this does not work with all children, but if it can work for your child, then you will have found a key to a more peaceful home.
3. Quiet Time Many times emotional outbursts come from too much stimulation. Especially in the video, television, and cell phone culture that we live in. But everyone, especially children needs quiet time. This doesn’t have to mean nap time, it means QUIET TIME. So put a book in their hand and tell them to go sit in the tree house and read for X amount of time. Try having them listen to quiet music or go on a nature walk with very little, if any, talking.
4. Softness Our children need softness in their lives. Whether it is gentle cuddling on the couch with mom, snuggles with a stuffed animal, or wrapping up in the softest blanket possible, softness brings a sense of calmness to a child’s spirit. That’s why a momma can softly stroke a child’s hair, arm or back and before long they relax and fall asleep.
5. Journaling Give your child a journal. Tell them it is theirs and that what they put in it is private and they don’t have to share it with anyone. Now, that being said here are a few guidelines.
- Respect their privacy, unless they show it to you, don’t look.
- Instruct them on how to use it, explaining that it’s a good place towrite or draw about how they feel.
- Sometimes, (I have to do this with my son) you have to prompt them on what they can write about. I sit near, but not so I can see my son’s book and say “Write about the best thing that happened to you today, next write down where you went or what you did, write what the happiest moment was or the saddest, write what is making you angry, etc.”
- Don’t let them say the answers out loud to you, tell them to put it in their journal. Doing this teaches the child that just because they think it or feel it, it doesn’t mean they should always speak it. Some things should NOT be said.
Know that you are not alone and that having a child who struggles with emotional intensity is not because you aren’t doing a good job. Know that some children simply process their emotions differently than other people. While you can’t change that, you can, as a parent, teach them coping skills which they can carry with them throughout their life.