What do you do when you are angry? How about when you are sad or scared or frustrated?
Have you ever thought about how you learned to manage your emotions?
Chances are that you learned to manage your emotions by watching the way adults in your life managed theirs—just like children today learn how to manage their emotions by the examples and messages they receive from their caregivers. Unfortunately, some caregivers get so wrapped up in managing their children’s behaviors that they lose sight of the fact that there are usually very strong feelings that are driving those behaviors.
It is understandable that parents and caregivers become overwhelmed with the behaviors from children, especially since children are typically unable to communicate what is behind those behaviors. Which is why it is extremely important to remember that behaviors do not happen in a vacuum. There is always a need behind the behavior that the child is trying to meet and, as caregivers, it is the adult’s job to meet those needs and teach that child how to manage their behavior by appropriately managing their emotions.
And the best way that caregivers can teach children to manage their emotions is by appropriately managing their own and letting children see them while that happens. The key word there being “appropriately.” It is okay for a child to know and see that their parent or guardian is angry as long as that anger is expressed in a healthy manner and with appropriate coping skills. It is entirely fitting for a child to see their caregiver grieve because that is how they will learn to grieve. Children will learn what is okay and not okay to feel, what are and are not acceptable forms emotional expression, simply by watching their parents and caregivers feel and express their own emotions.
Because children learn so much by watching how their caregivers interact with the world, it is imperative that the caregivers, themselves, have well-developed and healthy coping skills. Those coping skills must include being able to manage their own emotions as well as accepting that they will not always get it right. It is inevitable that caregivers, just like children, will make a mistake–that they will lose their temper or jump to conclusions or whatever—and act in a way that they would not accept from their child. However, if a caregiver has the necessary emotional management skills, they will be able to not only repair their relationship with the child but teach them that making mistakes is not the end of the world.
And the really good part is that even if a caregiver does not have the best coping skills, even if they mess up every day, it is never too late to learn and to be the example that is needed.