Handling Negative Emotions

It is important every child learns how to handle negative emotions. Children must know how to feel strong emotions without hurting themself or another. The ability to cope with and express these feelings is something every parent must support within their child.

Emotion coaching uses reciprocal parent to child communication to teach empathy. The parent becomes a role model, and by taking the child’s emotions seriously, the parent is able to better understand the child’s perspective.

Every parent must be aware, attentive and responsive to the child’s emotions. By connecting and listening to the child a parent is better able to model healthy behavior for the child and help the child describe and name the emotion being felt. The final step in this process is to help the child find and choose solutions that allow the child to move past the negative emotion and develop a strong sense of resilience and a healthy emotional attitude.

When a parent is presented with a negative emotion it is easy to dismiss or disavow the emotion. Parents often distract a child from the negative situation by substituting a positive one. This is not healthy. Children must learn how to accept and manage negative emotions. Other parents will disavow negative feelings by telling a child it is not acceptable to feel that way. This is also wrong. In the same way a parent who “takes on” the negative emotion of the child without providing solutions is not advancing the child’s emotional development.

Children must learn that becoming scared, sad, angry, nervous and afraid are all part of life. In fact, fear, frustration, anger, inadequacy and rejection are all programmed into us. How a child learns to manage these feelings will determine the amount of stress a child encounters and the amount of positive emotions that arise from these encounters.

Many children are taught to consciously suppress and unconsciously repress negative feelings. This denial is unhealthy and often leads to the projection of negative emotions onto others. Other unhealthy tendencies include the use of temper tantrums, outbursts and body language to release enough negative tension to allow the child to “go on” and an “ignorance is bliss” approach that suggests momentary distraction allows a child not to think about and experience the negative emotion. These types of defense mechanisms are unhealthy since they do not foster autonomy. They support the development of shame and doubt which lead to dependence and withdrawal.

Parents who listen, talk and support a child through the turbulence of negative emotions allow a child to own and control responses and at the same time support the development of socially acceptable behavior. If such support is not present, fear without reason predominates and anxiety develops. A child without this support is unlikely to develop the initiative to reach out to others due to hidden fear and negative emotions. This leads to guilt which further hinders emotional development.

What can you do to connect with your child? Be attentive and responsive to your child’s needs while being attuned and sensitive to your child’s temperament and developmental level.  In this way you will help your child experience negative emotions, reframe situations, build positive emotional experiences and develop a strong sense of initiative and autonomy.

To check out our discussion on WJET click here: https://vimeo.com/75968619