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Helping our children learn to manage emotions effectively

Children’s Mental Health

Dealing with children’s negative behaviors and temper tantrums is a challenge for most parents. As parents we want the behavior to stop. To accomplish this, we may place a child in time out for throwing things or hitting, ignore them when they are crying, or try to explain why the behavior is wrong. These strategies may prove to be effective in the short term but until we get to the reason behind the behaviors, we can’t truly begin to help our children learn to manage emotions effectively.

It is important to look at children’s behaviors as a means of communication. Through their behavior, children try to tell us how they are feeling. When we don’t look at the reasons behind the misbehavior, we are missing an important opportunity to teach children more positive ways to express themselves.  

There are many reasons why a child might throw a tantrum or become aggressive.  Some of these include:
–    Feeling tired, hungry or sick 
–    Not able to verbalize or communicate what they need or want
–    Frustration for not being able to complete or master a task
–    Overstimulated or overwhelmed
–    They haven’t yet learned socially acceptable expectations in a situation

Think about this following example, a child is trying to put together a puzzle, but can’t get the pieces to fit. At a young age they probably don’t have the ability to verbalize that they are frustrated. Instead they might throw the toy or begin crying. Parents may often say “Don’t throw your toy or I will take it away” or “Stop crying.” The child may become more frustrated and the behavior escalates and parents may continue to scold, keeping emotions high. 

Instead this is a great opportunity to help our children begin to recognize these feelings, find alternative ways to deal with them, and build a relationship where they know they can come to us for help when they have “big” feelings in the future. 

So an alternative response for the above situation might be “You’re mad you couldn’t fit in the puzzle piece, we have to be safe with our toys, would you like some help?”  And offer them a nurturing response, hug them, help them through the frustration by taking some deep breaths.  

Remember, children aren’t born with the ability to regulate their emotions, but as parents it is very important we teach this skill just like we would teach colors or how to read.  So the next time, your child misbehaves, take a deep breath before reacting and try to recognize the reason for the behavior and make the best of this opportunity to teach your child. Remember behaviors have meaning!

By Cindie Silmon, LCMFT – Mental Health Specialist
Cindie Silmon, LCMFT became a Mental Health Specialist at Rainbows United in January of 2014. She currently works in family homes supporting parents of infants and toddlers in our Attachment Bio-behavioral Catch-up service. 

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