As adults we look at life through a dusty lens – we forget what it’s like to play, to laugh, to imagine and create as children do. Instead of exploring the world of our minds and ranges of our emotions, we contain ourselves in controlled mannerisms and behaviours.
It becomes easy to forget that life allows us to gain experience: We learn how to behave and how to interact with the complex world around us, but we forget that we were once sponges to patterns, language, mannerisms and belief systems and more, just as children are. A child’s brain has different phases of development; however, most of the development happens before the age of seven.
This increased period of neural connections happening within the connectivity of brain matter allows your child to absorb more information and adjust to life around them. As amazing as this process is, imagine being overwhelmed by your physical body learning movement, your speech being so rudimentary that you can’t fully communicate, feeling stressed by schedules and overstimulated nervous systems. This is actually exactly what adults experience as stress and yet we have great tools to assist us to ‘cope’ with our stressful responses. But what about our children? Tantrums happen as an outburst from frustrations and feeling upset. The issues a child faces in today’s society often increase the risk of being diagnosed with ADHD or ADD and other learning issues, but a child whose system is overruled by stress cannot focus as effectively or absorb and retain information and, often, then reacts negatively in ways they know how to, by screaming, having a tantrum or crying. Children are often very open with emotional expression.
Five tips on dealing with a child’s emotions:
- Q&A: Ask your child about what they are feeling. If they feel like screaming because they don’t have a word for it, then allow them to scream and then ask if it is rage, anger, frustration, hurt etc. and allow your child to tell you WHY they feel the way they do.
- Take time away: If your child is overwhelming you with their emotions, take time for yourself, simply to breathe and ground yourself. Being as calm and patient as possible allows your child to feel validated, understood and heard.
- Mindfulness: There are various mindfulness techniques; find a technique that assists in understanding the development phase of your tiny human. Example: If their brain is under the age of two years, they are still developing in senses, which means keeping focused attention on senses or soothing senses would be helpful tools in calming down or stimulating the child, whichever is needed in that scenario. Giving your child the tools to handle their emotions is beneficial in both the short term and long term.
- Give them space: Be aware of whether your child needs space or is comforted by your presence. As adults we can appreciate space when we are overwhelmed. Allow yourself to give your child the space they need until they are ready to receive your affection again.
- Educate: Teach your children about emotions and speak to them about it openly. Remember they are sponges of information and they will be reacting in ways they either feel will help them feel better or get a reaction from you, as the parent, for attention. Educating yourself on your emotions and then teaching them what emotions are and various ways to handle them (example: When we are angry, throwing a cup is not the most productive way to deal with the emotion; perhaps we should rather go for a walk and do some breathing exercises). Finding better ways to express feelings and emotions allows for the nervous system to feel more grounded and settled.
“Joy, feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production, are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.” – Maria Montessori
Five tools of mindfulness for children:
- Stress release bubbles: Guide your child on a bubble adventure. Through visualisation, allow them to focus all their pent-up frustration and anger or fear or pain into the bubble and, as it blows away in the wind, say goodbye to it.
- Movement: Express emotions through movement. Sadness may have you rolling around in a ball on the floor and then standing up shaking it off to let it go and then posing as superman or wonder woman, confident and proud. Various movements allow us to feel different things; the art of dance is often expressive and this is a great bonding for parents and children.
- Breathing techniques: There are various breathing techniques available; however, they all come down to the awareness of breath. Breath has a huge effect on our emotional state and being focused on slow, deep breaths allows our mind to calm.
- Gratitude: Teaching your child from a young age to shift focus from overwhelming emotions to the present reality is a great tool. Have your child list three things they are grateful for; for every overwhelming emotion they are feeling, teach them how to get their senses involved (example: I am grateful for the soft couch or the comfortable pillow or the colour of the flower). What is there to touch, taste, see, smell or hear that could be a thankfulness.
- Placement: Make it a fun game to clean up and place things back where they belong. A tidy space psychologically affects the mind and the less clutter around us the more we are able to feel at ease.
“Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn