Sometimes we can become fearful when our child’s behavior seems a bit chaotic or out of control. When our children have, what we sometimes call “meltdowns,” it can create our own meltdown, either internal or external or perhaps both.
When our children are expressing their frustration, we often want to stop it, fix it, and quiet it down. Have you ever felt that way? The noise hurts your ears, the behavior makes others around you stare, and the flailing of your child is creating a scene. Perhaps you think that your child is punishing you with this outburst.
What was your experience when you were little? How did you express big emotions and small ones? What did your parents or caretakers do when you had a tantrum or a meltdown? Often this conditioning, our experiences as children, creates our reaction to the same or similar behavior in our own children. What if you could step back, look at your child through a different lens? Can you take off the lenses that have been tainted by your own childhood experiences and bring compassion and understanding to the situation at hand? Perhaps you already do this.
These big and small emotions are all important experiences for our children to move through. Emotional intelligence is built on just that – allowing the intelligence to grow through understanding and accepting emotions, no matter how big or small.
In my experience, tantrums were not really acceptable when I was growing up. I remember being sent to my room and punished for my need to explode or emote. As I was raising my children, I realized that this definitely was not a style that was working for them. I remember not liking it as a child, feeling more emotional and angry for being sent away. When my kids were a bit younger, I tried to help them find space for these big emotions and ways to let them work through them, as well as understand them.
Research by La Barbera, Izard, Vietze, and Parisi supports the notion that “infants as young as 4 months of age have been shown to discriminate between different emotions,” (La Barbera, 1976). From this, we can see that it is important to start fostering emotional intelligence at an early age so that children begin to develop a sense of autonomy and control over these emotions.
This is the key to creating emotional health and wellness in our children. Instead of avoiding or punishing children for big emotions, we need to help them to connect with them, understand them, and move through them. As Robert Frost so eloquently put it, “the only way out is through.”