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.
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.
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.
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.