Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Feeling It - Helping Your Children Express Themselves Appropriately

I recently read the book Not Like My Mother: Becoming a Sane Parent After Growing up in a CRAZY Family by Irene Tomkinson (which is free for Nook btw!). It is full of great information! At one point, it talks about what happens when someone is not allowed to express themselves emotionally and how the hurt and resentment of being stifled presents itself later as anger. I grew up in a family that didn't allow me to express my sadness and frustration and I now see the repercussions in my own life. Things tend to get brushed aside and pushed down only to explode later. I continue to struggle with properly expressing myself and am prone to pendulum like behavior at times. But I want more for my daughter.

As Cadence gets older (she'll be 2 next month), she is having more instances of frustration. Some people would call them tantrums, but I don't think it is helpful to negatively label her behavior in this way. She is expressing herself in the only way she knows how. It is important that I create a supportive environment for her where she feels safe to feel her feelings. I have to help her learn to identify and label her emotions so she can express them and her needs in an appropriate way. It is my job to help her find a way to work through the emotion instead of pretending it doesn't exist.

For example, we were in the couch together. She was coloring and I was journaling. She grabbed my mechanical pencil and when I took it away from her she threw herself onto the floor, flailing and screaming. I didn't tell her to stop crying or not to pitch a fit. Instead, I said, "I know you are upset that I took your pencil away, but it is not yours and it can hurt you. Ouch! You can draw with these", and directed her back to her crayons. 

I validated and labeled her emotional reaction, rationalized with her, and gave her an alternative. The idea is that, eventually, she will be able to self rationalize and therefore regulate her own emotional responses. Since implementing the Validate, Label, Rationalize, and Offer a Solution method, I have begun to see a noticeable difference in her behavior. Instead of having a meltdown when her dad wouldn't let her hold her toothbrush, I got down on her level and made eye contact, explaining to her that I knew she was sad she didn't get to brush her teeth, but she could have a turn after daddy. She immediately stopped bucking and grabbing for the toothbrush and sat calmly waiting until she could take a shot at brushing her teeth (which she happens to really enjoy!).

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