Big Emotions, Little Bodies

Raise your hand if you’re the mom (or caregiver, grandma, teacher, etc.) to a little one whose emotions make them feel like a full on, hormonal, moody teenager! OK, if you all could see how many people raised their hands, you’d know that you’re not alone. Solidarity, people. I think it’s the biggest and most important part about supporting moms. Honestly, it’s one of the driving forces for us starting a blog in the first place. It’s good to know you’re not alone and it’s even better to get support from people who are right there in the trenches (A little dramatic? Me? Never!) with you.

Now, I (Gabi), haven’t had to really full-on confront this as a mother yet, but, I’ve got my teacher senses tingling and I’m going to tell you what we do in the classroom.

  1. Talk about emotions, daily. Key word here is daily. Emotions can seem like this big scary thing if only choose to talk about them and confront them when they’re emotions that make us feel “icky.” One thing I like to do is just state what I’m feeling and why. “You drew this flower for me? Thank you! It makes me feel so happy.” “I’m excited for our trip to the zoo later!” It’s also important to talk about emotions that don’t feel so good. In front of our kids. I’m not asking you to sit on the couch across from them and spill your whole life story… just make sure they know that you feel “icky” sometimes too and it isn’t permanent.

  2. Feel things. Wholly and fully. This one is TOUGH, I’m telling you. It’s so easy to see your kids sad or hurt over something and offer them ice cream or a toy to cheer them up. Instead, as uncomfortable and inconvenient as it may be, let them fully feel what they’re feeling without a literal or figurative pacifier. Explain to them that it’s OK to be sad/mad/upset/hurt.

  3. Give them a safe spot to feel what they’re feeling. In my classroom, I usually say, “I can see that you’re ______, let’s find you a safe place to go.” In the classroom it might be their cubby; this serves as their own personal space that other children can’t invade. Or, it might be just a quiet area in the room. At home, it can be their bedroom or another calm spot that you designate. The kicker here is we stay with them. To support emotional development, we want children to know that they’re safe with us, they’re loved no matter what they’re feeling, and that we will stick it out. We won’t walk away when the going gets tough.

  4. Validate them. I think I’m not alone when I say that even people my age feel comfort in validation when I’m feeling something I don’t like. Rather than saying, “I understand how you feel.” Try something like, “I can see that you’re upset. Can you tell me why?” or just “I can see that you’re upset, it’s OK to feel upset about XYZ.” Bonus points, you can use these lines practically word for word for adults too. When a child lashes out because they’re feeling upset we use the line, “It’s OK to be mad/sad/etc. but it’s not OK to be mean.” Try giving them replacement behaviors like “pushing out” the walls or pinching play dough.

  5. Encourage emotional awareness. When you’re watching TV… oh no, I said it! Spoiler alert: I know screen time is bad and sometimes we still watch TV in our house. Anyways, when you’re watching TV, or reading a book, or out in public or at a play date with friends, help your child to recognize others’ emotions and the cause of them. Surprisingly, identifying the cause of another’s emotions is a fairly advanced skill, but, you can help to identify this by talking to your child about it frequently.

  6. Encourage positive coping mechanisms. This could be drawing, painting, stretching, breathing, or even just allowing them to tell you when they need to be alone. If you need some great ideas for coping check out “Tucker the Turtle” and “Conscious Discipline.”

To sum this all up, we all need a little support from time to time. If we’re willing to start supporting little bodies with big emotions, maybe they’ll have happier, healthier, more productive lives as big bodies too!

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