Years ago, I worked with a family doing some parent coaching for a child who was a Late Talker. On this day, I watched 16-month-old-Kiddo get mad about something (not being able to put the block in the shape sorter? Not being able to find the ball? Can’t remember.).
What I do remember is that Parent went to soothe Kiddo almost immediately. When I suggested to Parent that it might be helpful to mirror Kiddo’s anger by modeling some language Kiddo might use to express their anger, Parent said, “no no! It’s my job to calm him down”.
But is it?
We are used to thinking that we have to calm our kids down. After all, isn’t that what coregulation is all about? Isn’t that what I’ve been talking about all year?
Welllll – yes and no.
Remember that your child’s behavior is strictly under their control. And your behavior is strictly under your control.
Which means that…. No one can calm anyone else down!
We can only calm ourselves down.
Seriously – think about this. The real trick for parents is to set conditions up so that kiddo can calm themselves down.
And, almost counterintuitively, one of the conditions that we can set up is to teach kids how to express all of their emotions – even the ugly ones, like Anger.
But this is often scary for us parents. In the case of Anger:
We are afraid that if we acknowledge our child’s anger that they will spiral out of control and never recover.
We are afraid that if we acknowledge our child’s anger that they will always Be Angry.
We are afraid that if we acknowledge our child’s anger that we can’t teach them how not to hit, bite, scream, throw.
We are afraid.
And when we are afraid, we think, say and do some weird stuff.
We project into a doomsday scenario in which our child is a social outcast with no friends.
We hit, scream, bite, throw a fit ourselves (ok, maybe we don’t bite, but you get my point here).
We might spiral out of control in our fear of their anger.
We teach kids to avoid, avoid, avoid their ‘negative’ feelings.
And we practically guarantee that our child will become afraid of their (and our) anger.
Which means, now WE are the ones causing all the problems!
But here are some secrets that no one really teaches us about Emotions (especially the “ugly ones”:
They are temporary events.
They are simply vibrations in our bodies.
If we don’t resist them, they last about 90 seconds before another emotion takes its place.
They are normal, human experiences.
Our bodies and brains were actually designed to experience them (ALL of them).
So, if we knew and believed that feelings are not a problem. How would we respond differently when our child was having a Normal Human Emotion like Anger?
Would we be more inclined to model a way to express that anger?
Would we be more inclined to put some words around that experience?
Would we be more inclined to stay with an unpleasant emotion a bit longer, knowing that it can’t hurt us?
Would we trust that we would be able to model coming out of anger into calm?
Would we trust our Kiddo to do the same?
What would you do if you knew – really believed in your bones – that no emotion was a problem?
What would change for you?