From the moment we hold a baby we intuitively try to emotionally connect. We do this by emotionally aligning our own emotions with that of the child. For example if the baby is crying we might speak softly and comfortingly to the baby whilst perhaps picking the baby up. As the baby grows they increasingly learn how to manage some of their own physical and emotional needs. While the idea is for our children to grow and gain more skills and independence, it’s not the only goal. Humans do not work best in total isolation or independence nor in total dependence of other human beings but rather in a balance of the two. In other words while we are helping our children to gain skills towards independence such as being able to dress themselves, or build a block tower we are also balancing this with teaching the child that they can always seek help from others.
This concept is particularly important when we look at the child’s emotional needs (or indeed an adult’s emotional needs). While it’s important for all of us to be able to self-regulate our emotions or self soothe, it’s equally important that we don’t either constantly rely on someone else to soothe us when upset OR learn to hold our difficult emotions in. Neither of these two scenarios work over time. Think – do know of someone who always seeks help and comfort when upset? Or someone who never seeks help or comfort?
I think we have all seen or experienced a toddler’s temper tantrum!! Little children in particularly can become overwhelmed by their strong emotions. Their limited capacity to understand why can’t have, for example, a new toy can bring on overwhelming emotions such as frustration, anger, hurt, sadness to name but a few emotions. While a toddler (or even an older child or adult) experiencing a temper tantrum can be difficult for the parent/carer, this is when the child needs us the most. They do not need to be put in ‘time-out’ although if we need a quick ‘time-out’ to gather our emotions that’s fine, the child needs to know that a caring adult is close by. The child needs someone to be with them in their difficulties emotionally. This does not mean we try to distract the child from their feelings OR yell and berate the child OR plead with the child to stop. The child needs our full emotional presence to help them through. This might look like holding the child and softly speaking with them or by just being physically close by. The tone of the adult’s voice is important here. When a little child is in full out tantrum mode, a gently soft tone is important. The brain cannot connect at the verbal level but is now working at the non-verbal level, hence physical proximity, tone and visual.
It’s in being with the child emotionally while they are struggling to cope with a difficult emotion that the child learns to self soothe. In allowing the child the safety of experiencing difficult emotions and not distracting or berating the child that they learn it’s okay to have emotions and with time will learn these feelings are okay.
Remember it’s okay for any of us to experience different emotions, in fact it’s impossible not to! The only control we have as individuals is how we’re going to respond to these emotions.
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