Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student
I was shocked the evening my five-year-old son had his first violent outburst. It was as if a cork had popped—all at once he was expressing so many emotions. I had no idea he had been keeping all those feelings inside. It took over an hour for my husband and me to calm him, but eventually he fell asleep in our arms. Still shaken after this event, I decided to research ways to help children deal with anger, sadness, and frustration. I have come to realize that there are three important things parents can do to help their child process strong emotions. The first thing parents can do is remember that kids are always observing what the adults in their lives do to handle their own emotions, so lead by example. Second on the list is to keep open lines of communication. Kids have questions and a willingness to answer them can make a world of difference. And finally remember that children will speak to others the way they are spoken to.
I had to be really honest with myself when considering how to help my son. I had to answer questions about whether or not I was giving him an example I wanted him to follow. The truth is I often exude stress; I’m sure my son is absorbing all the angst I let off. When children see that their parents lack coping skills, they don’t wonder why; they simply understand it as normal behavior. Ever have road rage? If your kids bore witness to that, I’m willing to bet they have what I like to call “playground rage.” In short, children emulate not only their parents’ positive behavior, but also the negative. Now, when I feel stressed I vocalize it in a positive way. I’ll say something like “Mommy feels like a prickly bear. I think a walk will help!” I’m showing him that I can help myself feel better and so can he.
Have your children ever asked a question that you were simply not prepared to answer? It’s tempting to shut them down or even make them feel guilty about asking. But what’s the message your child receives when this happens? I think it’s something along the lines of “Be very careful when you express yourself; it’s not always wanted” or “ Certain things are bad to say; it’s better not to share.” Instead of refusing to talk to your child about certain things, make it a point to be honest (while still age appropriate) and remove shameful feelings from communication. A child who is allowed to ask questions and speak openly will learn that it is safe to express many emotions rather than try to contain them alone.
Parents are often tired, stressed, and overworked, a combination that makes it easy to become short and snappy when speaking to a rambunctious child. I used to tell my son, “You are on my last nerve” until I heard him say it to a classmate, and didn’t find it cute. At times, I’ve also been known to be rather sarcastic (I prefer “witty”)—again not a trait I want my son to possess. I’ve had to change the way I speak in order to raise a child who speaks kindly to others. For me, changing my tone of voice was the most difficult part. What helps me stay calm is to look at my son before speaking. When I look at him, I see a little child who has so much energy packed into a small body, I realize it would not only be pointless to snap at him for fidgeting but also mean. Other parents might find it helpful to remember being young and how it felt to be a wiggly, little kid. If all else fails, force yourself to stay calm. Do not show your children what it is to melt down; instead, show them how to calmly express themselves.
There are many other things that can be done to minimize violent, angry behavior, but I believe these three things are the most important. Show your child healthy coping skills, have an honest open relationship free from shame, and always remain stoic when disciplining. Our culture is full of violence. Wherever you look, it’s present. Children will be exposed to it no matter what. I believe it’s more important to focus on personal interaction between parent and child rather than censor the rest of the world.