Tips for Successfully Parenting the Emotional Child

The hardest part of parenting for myself isn’t refereeing the fights, doing the homework, or even the constant need for snacks (do children have 3 stomachs like cows do? I mean, where do they put all of this food?!) For me, the hardest part of parenting is helping my children navigate their big emotions and teach them how to respond appropriately to the world around them. All kids have explosive moments or big emotions, but with an emotionally sensitive child this can be a daily road to navigate. Here are some tips that have helped me while parenting my emotionally sensitive child.

Don’t ask ‘why’, ask ‘what’

Some situations are just inevitable. Siblings will fight, unkind words will fly, hands will leave their ‘bubble’. There isn’t a kid I know who has never had a moment of misbehavior. With an emotionally sensitive child, they are quick to get on the defensive. This can make it hard to find out exactly what happened when you are walking into a war zone and both sides are pointing fingers at the other person. Instead of asking why, ask what. What was happening before the fight started? What did you not like about what happened? What do you think we can do to make this situation better for everyone? I find that if I ask why, I’m always met with an ‘I don’t know’, but if I ask what was happening I can get the full story.

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How does your body feel right now?

It can be hard for children to recognize what emotion they are feeling in the heat of the moment, and putting it into words can be tricky. Most young kids won’t say ‘I’m feeling anxious’, they might say ‘my tummy feels funny’. Or instead of saying ‘I’m getting frustrated’ you may notice their cheeks are getting red and their hands are clenched. Noticing the physical signs of their emotions, and teaching them what those feel like, might help them be able to communicate better to you what they are feeling. When my son is having a rough moment, I always ask ‘what does your body feel like right now?’ and we take it from there.

”You can tell me anything”

I’m sure you have heard this one before, ‘Hey Mom, can I tell you something?’. I hear this about 394857 times a day, and my answer is always the same-‘you can tell me anything’. At the age my kids are now, that usually means stories about video games or a Lego creation or a picture that was colored at school. What they hear is ‘I’d love to hear about Minecraft for the next 45 minutes!’ but the underlying message is ‘You can come to me about anything, and I’m here for you’. Opening the lines of communication during times they want to talk just make it easier to connect with them during those times they are overwhelmed and need to talk.

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Give them their space, but let them know you are available

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your child when they are in an emotional meltdown is to let them work it out. Sometimes, they won’t want to talk to you about it, and trying to force your kid to open up will just make them more upset. Let them have space and time to work through it on their own, but let them know you are available if and when they are ready to talk to you. Sometimes my kids won’t want to talk, and instead of asking what happened I will simply say ‘can I give you a hug right now?’. You might be surprised that they will take you up on that hug much faster than they will want to chat about their big emotions.

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič – @specialdaddy on Unsplash

Teach you kids to take their mental health seriously.

With school violence and bullying on the rise, the world is more aware now than ever that mental health in kids is just as important to care for as their physical health. I remember during our last deployment, the kids and I were filing our calendar fast. One day I looked around and noticed just how tired everyone looked. The kids were bickering and struggling in class, I was anxious and not sleeping, and we were trying to live life like we weren’t burning the candle at both ends. We all took a mental health day. I kept the kids home from school and we said no to all of our engagements that day. We played board games, ordered pizza, and finished the day with a family sleepover. I let them know that sometimes, you need to know when to say enough is enough, and that is ok! Letting your children know their feelings are just as valid as yours are will only encourage them to be more mentally healthy adults.

When the Mom Burnout hits you

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You wake up to the sound of kids screeching and fighting in the hallway. You look at your phone, you still have 10 minutes before your alarm is set to go off and another 10 before you needed to wake up the kids for school. You can feel it in your bones that it is going to be one of those days as you emerge from your room and are immediately met with breakfast demands and complaints over the clothes you picked out the night before for them to wear. You try to calmly ask the kids to just be patient as you start pouring cereal and start the coffee pot, but you can feel your cheeks getting warm. When the hungry masses are done eating, they run off to their room. You yell down the hallway to go brush their teeth, but in reply all you get is more fighting about who hit who and who is touching the others toys. You take a deep breath and start clearing the breakfast dishes, only to notice someone spilled their wet cereal all over the floor and didn’t bother to clean it up. They know that you will clean it, so why bother? Finally after teeth brushing, hair managing, 3 outfit changes (while you are still in your pajama pants and tank top from yesterday) you are screaming like a lunatic to get everyone to put on their shoes and hurry outside because the bus is here to pick up the oldest kid and you still have to drive the youngest to their school, which opens in 15 minutes (and you have yet to brush your own teeth).

It is barely 8 am and you are already mentally exhausted when your phone beeps. It’s a text from your husband asking you to run an errand for him this morning since he is at work and you are just at home all day. You text him back ‘sure thing’ and add it to your mental list of your other errands to get done-laundry, sweeping and mopping, unloading and reloading the dishwasher, finishing some computer work you didn’t have time to do yesterday, buying milk because you used the last of it in the kids cereal this morning. You sit in your van and feel the tears start to come. You feel sad, overwhelmed, underappreciated, and ridiculous. “Why are you crying? You are so lucky! You have a husband who is able to provide financially for your family so you can stay home and manage the house! THIS is your job! You have enough money to buy milk and put gas in your van. You have 2 beautiful children and a husband who loves you all, that’s more than a lot of people get in their whole lifetime! So why am I crying in the bank parking lot?”

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I will tell you why you are crying. Because you are human. As a mother, we spend so much of our day being many things for many people. Mother, wife, nurse, cook, housekeeper, chauffer, referee, lover. The list goes on and on and the benefits are ones that don’t give immediate gratification. You don’t get a paycheck, or vacation days, or sick days. There is no promotion ladder to climb and you never clock out. And the stakes are high, like really high. You are raising a family, molding tiny humans into what you hope will be productive members of society and you only have one shot at doing it right. The weight of this burden is heavy, and even though you may not carry it alone, it is a job that you can’t take lightly. So when you start your day yelling like a lunatic you feel like you are failing, or like this isn’t the deal you were promised when you made the decision to start a family.
IT.
IS.
HARD.

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I see you, Momma. I see you when you are crying in your van. Or when you are standing over a toddler in the middle of a meltdown at the grocery store, gritting your teeth as you try to coax them up. I see you when you are walking out of the school office after another meeting with teachers about your child struggling in class and you’re just hoping you can hold it together until you get to your car. When you are mindlessly scrolling thru Instagram at the park while your kids play because you just need 5 minutes to do anything other than being a mom right now.
I see you.
I am you.

Your feelings are valid and you have worth. Life is hard, parenting is hard, and trying to balance it all with grace and a smile is damn near impossible.

So give yourself some grace and be kind to your feelings. Not every day will be like this and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Why? Because you know eventually it will be bedtime, and if you can just hold on until then, you get a fresh start tomorrow.

And in the meantime, there is wine and chocolate.

Because you are a Mom, and you have earned it.