Tantrums and Aliens – When Children Have Big Feelings

Imagine this: You are five years old and you want to draw a tiny alien. Your brother is sitting next to you and he is drawing a lorry.

You are not sure if your picture will be as good as his.

Suddenly your confidence in your ability to draw a good picture of an alien disappears. You ask Mummy to draw it for you. But Mummy starts to draw an alien of normal size. Instantly you feel disappointed because the alien is nowhere near small enough. You also feel upset and these feelings come out in anger and frustration.

‘No Mummy’, you shout, ‘I want it tiny.’

Mummy starts to draw another alien, this time much smaller, but it is still not small enough. This is a huge problem, Mummy does not understand how to draw a tiny alien and your brother has nearly finished drawing his lorry. You realise that he is going to have a brilliant picture. You feel envious, you know he will get a lot of praise for it: ‘Ooh what a lovely picture of a lorry, what big wheels it has, how carefully you have drawn the driver’ etc.

Suddenly you feel overwhelmed with big feelings, you snatch the picture of the not tiny enough alien from Mummy, tear it up and begin to cry uncontrollably.

This of course is perfectly normal behaviour for young children. They often have big feelings and can become upset at seemingly unimportant things.

It can be hard as a parent to know how to deal with this sort of situation, but one of the most important and powerful things we can do is simply to acknowledge our child’s feelings.

Let’s take a quick look at this from an adult perspective.

Let’s say you had a really busy time at work and are feeling pretty tired as you walk in the door at the end of a very long day. Your partner was going to be home before you, and as he is busy too and it’s Friday, you had agreed that he would pick up a takeaway on his way home, and have the kids all sorted and the food ready for when you get in.

As you walk from your car you are looking forward to stepping into the house. Everywhere will be tidy, the plates will be on the table, the children will be playing happily together, the food ready to be served. It’s the start of a blissful evening with your adored family.

But wait…

The reality is a million miles from what you have imagined. The kids are fighting, the house is a mess and there is no food, no take away, no nothing. Your partner is just coming off the phone, he’s sorry, something came up at work and he had to call a client, he has not had time to tidy up or ‘sort’ the kids and guess what…. Yep, he clean forgot to pick up that takeaway!

Well, I’m guessing I don’t have to describe what happens next but let’s say it involves you, some toys and a pram!

Maybe your partner can see straight away that you are feeling tired, stressed, upset, frustrated and disappointed, to name but a few of the emotions swirling around inside you. Maybe he will take your angry reaction on the chin and listen to your complaints without taking it personally. After a few minutes of listening to you rant and agreeing how difficult it must be to come home to all this chaos, he will pour you a glass of wine, shut the sitting room door on the bickering children, and just give you a big hug.

Maybe.

How would that make you feel?

When we are upset about something we need to know that those around us understand our upset, we don’t need to feel judged and we don’t need a battle. Children may sometimes seem to make a very big deal out of small things, but it’s not just the kids that do that, it’s us adults too. We can’t help our feelings, but sometimes the way we show them is not helpful.

I always remind parents who are concerned at their child’s ‘big’ feelings that children mature at different rates. Emotional maturity can take a while to develop, and learning to deal with life’s ups and downs, and bounce back after disappointment, or respond to adversity in helpful ways takes time.

Be patient with your child, and be kind to yourself.


About the Author: Jane Rogers

Jane Rogers is an experienced and qualified Parenting Practitioner, and founder of The Cambridge Parent Coach. Jane is passionate about Positive Parenting and loves to share the ethos and ideas of this way of parenting. Her parent workbooks: ‘How to Encourage Good Behaviour’, and ‘How to Use Positive Discipline to Improve Your Child’s Behaviour, along with her book of poems for children, ‘I’m Not Afraid of Spiders, Poems about feelings’, are available on Amazon. Learn more about Jane’s work by visiting her website, www.thecambridgeparentcoach.com.

 

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When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.
Sometimes we all just need space to talk to someone who will listen without giving advice, or problem solving, or lecturing. Someone who will let us talk, and who can handle our experiences and words and feelings without having to smooth out the wrinkles or tidy the frayed edges. 

Our kids need this too, but as their important adults, it can be hard to hush without needing to fix things, or gather up their experience and bundle it into a learning that will grow them. We do this because we love them, but it can also mean that they choose not to let us in for the wrong reasons. 

We can’t help them if we don’t know what’s happening in their world, and entry will be on their terms - even more as they get older. As they grow, they won’t trust us with the big things if we don’t give them the opportunity to learn that we can handle the little things (which might feel seismic to them). They won’t let us in to their world unless we make it safe for them to.

When my own kids were small, we had a rule that when I picked them up from school they could tell me anything, and when we drove into the driveway, the conversation would be finished if they wanted it to be. They only put this rule into play a few times, but it was enough for them to learn that it was safe to talk about anything, and for me to hear what was happening in that part of their world that happened without me. My gosh though, there were times that the end of the conversation would be jarring and breathtaking and so unfinished for me, but every time they would come back when they were ready and we would finish the chat. As it turned out, I had to trust them as much as I wanted them to trust me. But that’s how parenting is really isn’t it.

Of course there will always be lessons in their experiences we will want to hear straight up, but we also need them to learn that we are safe to come to.  We need them to know that there isn’t anything about them or their life we can’t handle, and when the world feels hard or uncertain, it’s safe here. By building safety, we build our connection and influence. It’s just how it seems to work.♥️
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#parenting #parenthood #mindfulparenting
Words can be hard sometimes. The right words can be orbital and unconquerable and hard to grab hold of. Feelings though - they’ll always make themselves known, with or without the ‘why’. 

Kids and teens are no different to the rest of us. Their feelings can feel bigger than words - unfathomable and messy and too much to be lassoed into language. If we tap into our own experience, we can sometimes (not all the time) get an idea of what they might need. 

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#parenting #mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparent
Never in the history of forever has there been such a  lavish opportunity for a year to be better than the last. Not to be grabby, but you know what I’d love this year? Less opportunities that come in the name of ‘resilience’. I’m ready for joy, or adventure, or connection, or gratitude, or courage - anything else but resilience really. Opportunities for resilience have a place, but 2020 has been relentless with its servings, and it’s time for an out breath. Here’s hoping 2021 will be a year that wraps its loving arms around us. I’m ready for that. x
The holidays are a wonderland of everything that can lead to hyped up, exhausted, cranky, excited, happy kids (and adults). Sometimes they’ll cycle through all of these within ten minutes. Sugar will constantly pry their little mouths wide open and jump inside, routines will laugh at you from a distance, there will be gatherings and parties, and everything will feel a little bit different to usual. And a bit like magic. 

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