Thursday, 23 February 2012

Emotional Development : Responding to Emotional Outbursts

Some ways to respond when faced with emotional outbursts from children are listed below.
These responses can be modified to suit individual children. The only requirement is that they convey to the child a feeling of being understood.The examples in this post are related to the ones in the prior post In case you missed the previous post, do check it out by clicking on the above link.

Before reading further, do this simple exercise- Recall an incident in your life when you were really angry, upset, disappointed or sad because of an incident. You shared that incident with a dear one and he didn’t really understand your feelings. Maybe he downplayed the incident or dismissed your feelings. Maybe he denied your emotion or asked you to just forget about the unpleasant incident. Did it help you? May be you were not seeking a solution. You just wanted him to understand. Or be there for you. But you got everything except what you most needed- a feeling of being understood.

Now, read on.

1.Child (afraid and crying): Do I have to get an injection? I am so scared.
Adult: I know you feel scared. Though injections can be scary, sometimes everyone needs to get injections. I promise I’ll be by your side while you get yours.

Sometimes, all that is necessary is an acknowledgement of the child’s fear and a gentle reassurance. In this example, neither can the child escape taking the injection nor can his fear vanish magically. But the presence of an empathetic and supportive adult would help him deal with his fears. Accepting the fear and dealing with it is a healthier option than pretending it doesn’t exist or putting pressure on the child by saying that brave people are not afraid of injections. Many people, adults included, fear medical procedures at some point in their lives and there is nothing wrong in being aware of that fear. 

2. Child to Friend (angry and shouting): You ate my cake! How dare you? What the hell am I supposed to eat now?
Adult: You are angry. Eating your cake when you were away was certainly not fair. 

Wouldn’t most people feel angry to have to have their posessions stolen? In this case, the cake was the child's possession. So, the first step would be to acknowledge the angry feelings of the child and not make him feel that his anger is inappropriate. Once his anger has been acknowledged, you can focus on calming him down or finding a solution to the problem. A child who feels understood is more likely to calm down and think clearly.

3. Child (upset and crying): I lost my new cap.
Adult: You are feeling upset. Would you like me to help you find it?

Most people would feel upset when they lose their belongings. Hence, the first step would be to acknowledge the child’s upset feelings at that moment. Second comes an offer to help find the cap (if necessary). If the child loses his belongings rarely, there is nothing more to do. But if it is a regular occurrence, the time to discuss caring for belongings is not when the child is upset. The issue can be addressed once the child has calmed down and is in a neutral frame of mind

4. Child (feeling disappointed and upset): You said you would take me to visit Grandma tonight. But you are home so late. When will I ever get to see her?
Adult: I know how disappointed you must feel. I am sorry I could not keep my promise. We shall certainly visit her soon.
The first step again is to acknowledge the child’s feelings of disappointment.

As adults, we may wonder why all this fuss over emotions. Why bother to acknowledge emotions and feelings. What is the big deal? Can’t one handle feelings and learn to control them? Of course, all of us can  control our emotions and we do it often.

But the goal should not be to control emotions only because we don’t know how to express them comfortably. The goal should be to express emotions in a more positive manner and this happens easily when we feel acknowledged and understood by the people we share our emotions with. 

When we identify or acknowledge feelings and emotions, it does not mean we are encouraging children to develop negative traits. In other words, acknowledging the feelings of an angry child will not encourage him to get angry more often. It is a healthy way of being aware of and comfortable with our emotions. Being comfortable with emotions also makes it easier for us to deal with trials, setbacks, disappointments and all other negatives in life. Same for children too. 

Encourage healthy emotional development from a young age. 

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