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How to Help Your Child Manage Their Emotions

How to Help Your Child Become Emotionally Stable

Adolescents face many challenges that can promote emotional instability. Here's how you can help your child manage his or her emotions, while eliminating destructive outbursts.

Set a good example. You can model healthy emotional self-management by avoiding your own tantrums. Instead of yelling, take a personal time-out to calm yourself down. When confronting your child or an unrelated frustration, try to talk calmly without raising your voice. Remember that children learn behavior from us. If we yell, they do too. If, on the other hand, we talk respectfully, our children can learn to do the same. Every time you stop yourself from lashing out, your child will be learning proper emotional regulation.

Don't disregard feelings. While their young brains are developing, teens and pre-teens may experience intense or overwhelming emotions in response to relatively minor things. Instead of simply instructing your child to "stop whining" or "calm down," offer empathy. Acknowledge that the child is feeling scared, angry, sad or frustrated, and express that you are sorry they are upset. As they calm, the child will probably be more willing to talk about his or her feelings and what caused them in the first place.

Don't punish feelings. Punishments and shaming do not teach children to regulate their emotions. In fact, these tactics can make things much worse by making children believe their feelings are wrong, while creating the tendency for suppression. Unfortunately, constant emotional suppression can lead to outbursts, and this is one big reason why excessive or inappropriate punishments lead to even more misbehavior. Instead of punishing, offer positive guidance, using questions and calm instruction to help the child process emotion.

Learn their triggers. While adolescents can lash out over just about any circumstance, the reasons tend to be the same. Most of the time, they center on approval, injustice, pride, respect, autonomy, envy and shame. Once you identify your child's triggers, explain what you see. Then, ask the child how he or she can react differently the next time. You might say, "This time you yelled, but that didn't make things better." You could then have the child come up with some better ways to respond. If the child seems unable to generate ideas, ask him or her to write down a list of ideas you can talk over at a later time.

Helping Your Child Understand Emotions

Although you may ultimately be focused on eliminating bad behavior, it's important to understand that emotions are a natural, healthy part of a child's development. Ideally, you want to make your child feel comfortable expressing his or her emotions, while limiting destructive actions. An angry child is not bad; he or she is merely a very inexperienced person attempting to cope with pain, frustration or disappointment. When children fail to properly control an emotion, it doesn't mean they can't; it simply means they can't right now. By maintaining a calm, compassionate attitude, you can avoid escalating a volatile situation. After a short time, the anger will vanish, causing the bad behavior to vanish too.

You can also help a child cope with emotions by explaining what these feelings are. First, let the child know that emotions are not bad, but are an important part of being human. You should also explain to the child that, while we are often unable to control how we feel, we can control how we choose to act. This sets the foundation for healthy emotional development, which can be stunted by excessive punishment and shaming.

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