Two Dubai-based behavioural specialists offer their advice on how the whole family can best handle some common emotional issues
Parenting is never easy. No matter how many books or articles we read, parenting is different for everyone. As parents, we have a very important role and impact on the development of our children’s emotional intelligence. Parents must remember that when their children are upset, they need help to manage these feelings and the only way to resolve emotions is by acknowledging them and working through them.
If your child is upset or angry or frustrated, it’s important for parents to first do a self-check in. Ask yourself how you are feeling in that moment. Dr Daniela Salazar, Clinical Psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia, recommends stopping and taking a deep breathe or even leaving the room or space if you are not in the right headspace to engage with your child at that time. She shares three tips:
- Remind yourself that the goal is to calm the “big” feeling your child is experiencing, not to escalate it.
- Don’t take your child’s emotions as your own, even if they are saying hurtful words, as these words are being said out of anger because they don’t yet have the skills to cope adequately. Their brains are still developing and they need your guidance.
- Notice the sensations in your body. Notice if you feel any tension or anxiety and, if you do, let go of these emotions and tune into your children’s feelings instead. Decide if this can be an opportunity to build a closer relationship with your child.
Salazar says that parents can help children to challenge their anxiety-creating thoughts (also called negative self-talk) by getting to know more. “You can do this by offering support, validating your child’s emotion or simply inviting your child to tell you more,” Salazar says. “Validation doesn’t necessarily mean you agree, only that you understand why your child would feel this way.” Salazar gives some examples of things parents can say to help their children deal and develop confidence in a variety of situations:
“It could be really embarrassing, to have your teacher say that.”
“I didn’t understand how important this was to you. Tell
me more about this.”
“I hear how angry you are about this. What can I do to help make
EMPATHISE – VALIDATE THEIR FEELINGS
Match your child’s tone. When kids feel that you really get how upset they are, they don’t need to escalate. Salazar recommends welcoming the emotions and reflecting them, mirroring your child’s tone. “You seem very upset!” or “You seem a little worried about this sleepover.” She also recommends repeating what your child is expressing to help them know you are listening: “If I understand correctly, you’re upset with your brother taking your toys.” Describing what your child is physically expressing helps them to feel seen and heard.
After the child has felt their feelings have been understood, it’s likely their overwhelming feelings will start to decrease and they will be open to problem solve or see other perspectives. If your child is still upset and is not willing to look at other perspectives, it’s a sign he or she has not worked through their emotions yet. Salazer highlights the importance of not jumping in to solve your children’s problems for them; “This gives the message that you do not trust them to make decisions on their own. It’s constructive to say words such as; “Ok, I see. What do you think can happen after you do X? Give them room to reflect and come up with their own observations and answers.” While this process can be tiring, it is crucial to help children become more emotionally intelligent and helps you build more empowered and self-regulated kids.
Doctor Salazar says parents need to understand that every child is different in the way they socialise. She says to help your child make friends and before any intervention, it’s important to take time to observe him or her interacting with children their age. Salazar says it might then be helpful to give your child a head start by getting to know other parents at the school and inviting them over to get the ball rolling. Role-playing social situations at home is also very useful to teach social skills, Salazar concludes.
She shares the following tips for parents to help children process and understand their negative emotions:
- Stay calm: First, stop and take a deep breath so that you’re in the right headspace to engage with your child.
- Connect: Reach out to connect emotionally and, if you can, physically. Create safety with your touch, your warmth, your tone, and your attitude. If you breathe slowly, your child will usually begin to breathe more slowly.
- Empathise: Repeat what your child is saying to help them
know you’re listening. Acknowledge their perspective.
- Be understanding: Don’t fight or contradict your child’s feelings. What’s important is that he/she feels understood.
- Get to know more: Offer support and invite your child to tell you more about how they’re feeling.
Bullying can take place in person or online and can be obvious (overt) or hidden (covert). Psychologist Sneha John at LifeWorks Holistic Counselling Centre says each child who is exposed to bullying will have a different experience of it. She lists some warning signs that parents can look out for:
- Reluctance to go to school; look out for signs of agitation when getting ready for school such as temper outbursts, excessive crying or refusing to ride the bus. Some children may display physical symptoms such as headache or a stomach ache.
- Quiet, withdrawn and disengaged; the child may become teary or irritable without an apparent trigger. He or she may zone out while being spoken to or avoid family activities and spend more time alone.
- Projecting aggressive behaviour; aggressive behaviour towards family members can be a sign of frustration and a way to communicate their victimisation due to bullying. Younger children may have frequent temper tantrums or crying spells.
- Unusually hungry after school; this may be due to skipping lunch to avoid being bullied. The bully may also be stealing the child’s lunch or lunch money.
- Nightmares and difficulties sleeping; the child may intentionally try to delay bedtime. Younger children may throw tantrums while going to bed and wake intermittently during the night. They may experience bed-wetting or teeth grinding.
- Personality changes; a once happy, bubbly child may show significant personality changes such as being moody and emotional. The child may lose interest in topics, food, friends and outings.
- Changes in appearance; the child may adopt a different style and engage in self-neglecting behaviours such as not taking showers. They may complain that they are tired and do not have the energy to look after themselves.