Dealing with big emotions during quarantine.
Raise your hand if you are finding the “shelter in place” orders exhausting and you’re coping with multiple large meltdowns a day from your young child(ren). It can’t be just our family! We are in strange and uncertain times and we aren’t the only ones feeling the effects of chronic stress, missing friends, and underlying uncertainty. Our kids are feeling it too. Since they are young and their brains have yet to fully develop, they don’t express or cope with emotions in ways that make sense to us and they get upset over things we may not understand.
A young child’s emotions are real and meaningful, even if it appears to us like the child is upset over “nothing.” The reality is the big emotions that the child is feeling are big to them. They are visceral and overwhelming. How would we treat a friend that was upset, even if we thought they were upset over nothing? Although we might not always understand the “why” behind an emotion, we can know that if they are expressing a big emotion, they are feeling it- and that’s overwhelming! In those moments we can mirror that emotion back to our child - “you’re mad!” and validate them. We can show up for them while still setting healthy and safe boundaries.
Of course, shelter in place is not the only time that children may exhibit “big feelings,” but it is a bit of a “perfect storm” which may potentially evoke more of these feelings, and more parental reactions, than usual. Let’s talk about some strategies we can use to help keep everyone feeling a bit more peaceful during these uncertain times.
Responding rather than reacting. This is so hard for me! At times, my child’s big emotions are intense, and I react in the moment. I look for a quick fix to stop the tantrums, or I get swept up in the emotions and escalate with my child. That is reacting. Reacting comes from feeling. Whereas responding requires some thinking. When I respond, I take a deep breath and let the meltdown continue while I stop and think. What are my priorities? What do I want to teach them? How are we both going to feel after this interaction? Once I have the answers to these questions I aim to respond in a way that supports how I want to parent while also ideally building their confidence as a person. My response to their behavior may still be full of feelings (we aren’t robots!) but it is more thoughtful.
Find your priorities. What are the values you are trying to model and impart? Sometimes I find that I say “no” or limit behaviors that aren’t high priorities. This could be an unnecessary mess, or bringing seemingly outrageous things on a walk. Sometimes the result is a little extra work for me, and other times, there is no negative outcome. It’s just a behavior I don’t understand because I am an adult and they are children. If the behavior isn’t harming anyone and isn’t ill-intended, then why question or limit it?Finding your priorities will allow you to choose your battles. Often your flexibility will be mirrored by your child’s. Maybe you can go with their flow in the morning and then they can help you make dinner later (or play calmly near you while you do!).
These are tough times, and everyone is feeling the weight. Hopefully we can work towards a more calm, peaceful time with our children during this uncertainty so we can all feel loved and respected at home.