4 Ways Parents Can Help Kids Deal With Feelings

This week I’m honored, thrilled, tickled — you name it, I’m feeling it! — to play host to author and parenting renegade Heather Shumaker.

When I found out about her recently published book, I just knew she was someone I wanted to hear more from. And when you read what she has to say, I think you’ll agree that her “renegade” rules make perfect sense.

So without further ado, here’s a tasty tidbit of Heather’s practical parenting advice and timeless words of wisdom.

It's OK Book coverConstructive Wallowing For Kids

Ever said to yourself “I just want my child to be happy?”

Sometimes our focus on Happiness gets in the way of what’s really more important: giving our kids life skills to cope with the full range of human emotions.  In their lifetimes our children are going to be sad, angry, frustrated, joyful and jealous.  Negative emotions are simply a part of being human.

Our job is not to make them happy, but to give kids the tools to accept and express their true emotions.

1. Help kids identify their feelings.  Say “you’re mad” or “your face looks scared.”  Labeling the emotion helps kids understand what they’re feeling.  You can also help them read facial cues on other people.  “He has his hands over his eyes.  He looks scared.”

2. Accept the feeling, but limit the behavior.  “It’s OK to be mad, but I won’t let you hit me.”  Focus on the feeling underneath the behavior.  Acknowledge how the child is feeling, but teach them that having a negative feeling doesn’t mean they can hurt people or property.

3. Add some action.  If a young child is hitting, let them hit – an appropriate target.  The motion of hitting or kicking might feel good.  Say “I can’t let you hit your brother, but you can hit the sofa.”  Pick something that can’t get hurt – a pillow, tree, bubblewrap, cardboard box, etc.  Let them get their mad feelings out.  After some physical energy is out it’s often easier for a child to calm down.

4. Take dictation.  When a child is crying and missing mom or dad, or got hurt, or is feeling furious – get out a pen and compose a letter.  Write down their dictated words in a letter.  For ex: “Dear Mom, I’m sad.  I fell down on climber.  I hurt my knee.  I miss you.” or “Dead Dad, I’m so mad!  I feel like throwing a table and a trash can at you!” Writing about it helps kids express their deepest feelings.  They feel heard and understood and this simple act helps them move on.

What’s wonderful about helping kids accept their difficult feelings is that we’re also helping ourselves.  By saying “you’re mad at me right now” we openly acknowledge and accept the emotion.  This can help enormously as we strive to parent the best we can and avoid getting locked into power struggles.  As we practice with kids and help them cope with their emotions, we begin to realize that we can accept our own difficult emotions, too.

author portrait Heather ShuamkerHeather Shumaker is the author of It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids (Tarcher/ Penguin, 2012), recently named a “Best Parenting Book in 2012” by Parents magazine.  An advocate for play-based learning and conflict resolution, Heather and her work have been featured in the Huffington Post, New York Post and USA Weekend.  Heather blogs at Starlighting Mama where you can learn more (and read a free sample chapter) at www.heathershumaker.com.

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