As parents, witnessing all of our kids' emotions can be hard at times. In our love for them and a desire for harmony, we wish for them to perpetually happy. However, deep down we all know they need to experience the whole spectrum of emotions in order to grow and thrive.
Being able to deal with big feelings is a challenge for kids. However, we can take specific steps to build their confidence to face difficult and uncomfortable emotions. Then they can learn to take action based on their values instead of whatever they are feeling in the moment.
1. Welcome All Feelings
Okay, let's be honest, welcoming all your kids' feelings is not easy. Being a container for the roller coaster of kids' continually changing moods can be exhausting. However, learning to handle big emotions is an awesome life skill for kids to learn. When kids realize that emotions are not something they need to hide, suppress or be afraid of, they get better at moving through them. If they see emotions as warning signs that can tell them important information about their wants, they can sit with big feeling, get curious and discover what their next steps instead of getting stuck.
2. Accept Your Feelings
It is easier for kids to accept their feelings when they realize that emotions don't define them. Just because they feel envious or jealous of a friend in particular moment doesn't mean that is who they are. Helping kids to name their feelings, understand that they are real, and be compassionate with themselves are great steps to accepting emotions as they flow. Kids will feel more confident if those around them can accept their emotions, empathize and help them move forward when they feel ready.
3. Take Thoughtful Action
Kids will learn that it is important to take time to sit with their emotions before doing anything. In moments of fear or anger, younger kids sometimes lash out at friends or family by kicking or hitting. We as parents tell kids that these are not okay reactions as they hurt or harm others. We have many parenting moments where we can model waiting to calm down before taking action. If we are upset with something our child has done, we can send them to another space while we process our emotions and think about what come next. In this way, we show them that taking a moment can lead to better actions that are more in line with who we are as people.
4. Share Your Feelings
It is easy for kids to feel overwhelmed by their emotions. Sharing them with trusted friends and family can help them to feel less alone. Having others hear, validate and support them with their big feelings is a healthy practice for parents to pass on to to their kids. By sharing feelings with others, we feel more connected and we also hear other viewpoints and perspectives we might not have thought of.
5. Be Courageous
When kids understand that feelings are simply caution signs, they can evaluate what actions to take, if any. For example, just because kids are feeling afraid doesn't mean that they shouldn't participate in something. First they need to decide whether their fear is warranted or if they can safely push past uncomfortable feelings in order to try something new. For example, they might be afraid to swim in the ocean if they are a weak swimmer and notice that the waves are very strong that day. They might make the call that it is simply too dangerous given their skill level. However, in another case they might be afraid to try rock-climbing in gym class because of a fear of heights. They decide to try when encouraged by their classmates and teacher. They feel more confident about their ability to rock climb when they climb higher than they planned.
Patience and Mentoring
Ultimately, building kids' emotional confidence means providing them with a safe space to process their feelings. Parents can nurture this by welcoming all of the feelings, encouraging kids to share regularly, and validating their emotions. They can also model how to sit with emotions before taking actions. Most importantly, they can teach kids how to listen to their intuition when making decisions about pushing past uncomfortable feelings.