By: Jolene Roehlkepartain
Can your toddler throw a 45 minute tantrum? Does your elementary-age child slam doors? Does your teen chew you out when she’s angry or frustrated? Sounds like you might be at risk for parental burnout. It can happen at any age, and sometimes it can make you question why you ever decided to become a parent. Read more >
Researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., discovered that the way parents interact with their kids when emotions run high can make a huge difference on whether or not you become burned out as a parent. Gottman developed a five-step strategy for teaching kids how to deal with their emotions and moods effectively (and without completely wearing you out).
Step 1: Be Aware of Your Child’s Emotions
You don’t need to be emotionally expressive in order to become emotionally aware of your child’s emotions. As a parent, however, you cannot become aware of your child’s emotions if you’re not in touch with your own. It’s critical to learn how to recognize when you’re feeling an emotion and how to label that emotion. Once you learn those two skills, you can then become sensitive to your child’s emotions. (Gottman includes a helpful self-test of how you as a parent view and deal with emotions in his book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting.)
Step 2: See Emotion as an Opportunity
Too many parents want to stop emotion, yet Gottman says you can become closer to your child and teach your child valuable skills if you learn more about the emotion rather than try to squash it. Kids—just like adults—want to be heard. When they’re expressing an intense emotion, they’re saying, “Listen! Listen!” Acknowledge your child’s emotion and then help your child calm down. (As your kids get older, teach them how to calm themselves when they’re upset.) Then help your kids talk about their emotions, identify correctly what their emotions are, and understand why they feel what they do.
Step 3: Listen and Validate Feelings
Truly listen to your child. Be empathetic. Don’t argue. Notice your child’s body language, gestures, and facial expressions. As your child tells you how he or she feels, reflect back what you’re hearing. Then validate how your child feels. If you don’t understand, ask questions.
Step 4: Help Your Child Label Emotions
When kids are young or inexperienced in expressing emotions, they need your help to articulate their emotions better. When your child says, “I hate you!” say, “You’re angry.” Keep focused on the emotion rather than the literal words. As kids get older, they often can feel two to three emotions at once, such as fear, sadness, and anger.
Step 5: Help Your Child Problem Solve
Once your child feels heard (and you understand why your child is feeling what he or she is feeling), work together to solve the situation. Often this will entail setting some boundaries. It’s important to teach kids not to hit, bite, scream, attack, or slam doors when they’re angry. Then focus on thinking of possible solutions and helping your child choose one to do.
Sometimes when I’ve followed these five steps, I’ve found myself completely exhausted by the process. Some kids have intense emotions that can last a long time and be jarring when they’re aimed at you. Take time for yourself to recover from the incident. Find other adults who can listen to you and what you’re going through as a parent. Parenting kids isn’t easy, especially when kids become emotionally intense.
Yet, the more we as parents can focus on the big picture (raising successful kids), the more we can parent them well whether they’re throwing a tantrum or laughing with you when life is calm.
Tell Us:——> Do you have a favorite technique for dealing with parental burnout? Comment below!
1. John Gottman, Ph.D. with Joan DeClaire, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998).
2. Ages & Stages, ParentFurther.
3. Image via christine [cbszeto] on Flick’r.