How to support your child in difficult moments
It is inevitable that parenting will include difficult moments. Here are some tips to help those moments to pass more peacefully. When we practice these steps we are supporting our children to learn skills which will help them for life and lay the foundations for resilience. It will be your secret super power!
Assume the best of them
If they are shouting, crying, hiding or exhibiting other behaviors which might appear more extreme it is for a good reason. They are likely to be either experiencing intense emotion, trying to meet a need for example to feel noticed and cared for or they might be simply enjoying the sensation of whatever it is they are doing and not giving much thought to how it appears or sounds to any one else! See if you can get a sense of what might be going on for them from context – what has the day been like so far, are they tired, is anything in the environment uncomfortable? This can include us! Children are brilliant at picking up on the emotional states of their main caregivers, if we are feeling stressed or sad they might be picking up on this and acting it out as behaviour. Finding a way to return yourself to calm is important at this stage, (my favourite way is by breathing in for 4 counts and out for 8).
Once you have a sense of what might be going on for them let them know you understand. You can use phrases such as, “it must have been really hard for you when..”, “it looks like you’re really enjoying…”. We call these empathy guesses. The child might respond by agreeing, that is how they are feeling or you may have to try again if you are slightly off the mark.
Support them to feel
If your child is experiencing difficult emotions, it is important that the child is allowed to fully feel whatever they are going through in order to complete the stress cycle. Emotions have an important role in returning us to balance, if we shut them down we decrease our ability to cope with difficult situations and can, over time limit our emotional range so life becomes less joyful. You can support your child by ensuring they are safe, maintaining a loving presence. Phrases such as, “all of your feelings are safe here”, “I am here when you need me” can really help. Sometimes a gentle hand on the child’s shoulder or back is welcomed but be sure to ask for consent.
Help them to calm and regulate
When the strong feelings have passed you can offer them a hug, wrap them in a blanket, sing or listen to a favourite song, whatever feels comforting to them so that their nervous system gets the message that they are safe. We all have an inner child hidden away somewhere, sometimes using these steps on ourselves when we are feeling upset or angry can be helpful too. It is quite likely that our feelings were not fully allowed when we were children so offering ourselves this kind of empathy and validation can be a beautiful gift to ourselves.