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  • Writer's pictureLaura LaRocca

‘I hate you’: What you can do help your child manage their ‘big’ emotions

Rather than reacting to the child’s behaviour, it’s important to respond to it, says Laura LaRocca

Boys making silly faces

As adults, we can find it tough to get a handle on our “big” emotions, such as anger. It’s even tougher for kids, who often don’t have the skills or maturity to manage them effectively. Instead, they may release these emotions through tears or tantrums, door slamming or other angry behaviours, yelling, or hurtful words.


It’s hard not to react to a child screaming, “I hate you!” or slamming a door so hard a picture falls off the wall. It’s frustrating and hurtful, and it’s easy to become angry in turn.


Understanding our child’s behaviour can help. Sally Chung, an art therapist at Art as Therapy, explains, “When a child is experiencing big emotions, what often happens is that their ‘emotional’ right brain has been activated and is outweighing the ‘logical’ left side of the brain.” What this means is that the child is not fully in control of their behaviour — so our automatic reactions, such as lecturing about unacceptable behaviour or language in these moments, aren’t effective and can make the child feel misunderstood.


Rather than reacting to the child’s behaviour, Chung says it’s important to respond to it. “Although easier said than done, in these moments, it’s important to first breathe, accept that the situation is happening, respond to your child and ultimately let them know that they are loved and connected to you, even in moments of distress,” she says.


Here are some suggestions she offers for responding to your child in these moments:

  1. Connect then redirect. Connect first emotionally, right brain to right brain. “I can see you’re upset, and this is making you feel really angry. When you are ready, I will be right here.”

  2. Observation. Make sure they know they’re not in trouble. Be curious and almost playful. You might start with a compliment, and then ask, “I noticed you had a really big feeling earlier. I wonder what was going on?” This type of conversation might happen at bedtime when the child is calm.

  3. Listen. Give them lots of time and space to process thoughts and speak.

  4. Validate their feelings. Be attuned and show them that you understand through body language, voice tone, eye contact and physical touch.

  5. Normalize their feelings. “Sometimes we all feel like this; that’s normal.”

  6. Problem solve. What could the child do next time? What might be a better solution? Discuss boundaries or expectations if necessary.

  7. Reassure them. You love them for who they are, and nothing will ever change that.

  8. Empower. Remind them that they have what it takes to face difficult challenges and that you’ll be there to support them.


The Parent Support Network offers several workshops to help you understand your child’s behaviour and support your children with big emotions, including anger and anxiety, and self-regulation.


 

Laura LaRocca was previously the coordinator at Dufferin Parent Support Network. If you have questions regarding this article, email us at info@parentsupportnetwork.ca

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