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  • Writer's pictureHannah's Hope

BIG Emotions.

"When we experience emotions, we try to control them. Most of us try to avoid even the slightest feeling of discomfort. We have become ingrained with the idea that emotions are irrational parts of ourselves that need to be suppressed so that logical thought can prevail." Dr. Soderlund, mom and developmental psychologist who has spent over 15 years studying children's emotional development, created the site Nurture and Thrive to inspire and teach parents how to find the tools to nurture their children's hearts and minds as they grow and learn by sharing science-backed tips and tools. On her site, she wrote an article titled, "Handle Your Child's Big Emotions with Love: How to Hold Space for Your Child's Impulses and Emotions." Often, when we think about self-regulation in terms of emotion regulation we think about the need for will-power which is the idea that we have to be stronger than our emotions and we need to suppress them, but that's wrong. "Denied emotions, suppressed emotions, and avoided emotions lead to more angst, more meltdowns, more tantrums, and more unwanted behaviors. We can see this in ourselves and our kids." As humans, we are often uncomfortable by big emotions which makes it easy for us to teach our children to avoid and dismiss their emotions and suppress them down. Unfortunately, suppression of emotions has actually been linked to causing anxiety and depression in the teen years as well as stress, poor immune functioning, chronic cardiovascular disease, and problems communicating in relationships; none of this is what parents want for their children. In her article, Dr. Soderland provides a list of steps on how to "Hold Space for Emotions," number one being that you should "separate emotions from behavior." The bottom line is this: "Emotions are not behavior. Emotions are under the behavior, the root of behavior." When kids do something wrong, it is natural to immediately hone in on what they are doing instead of why. This creates the idea in your child's brain that how they feel is wrong, making them feel worse and causing them to likely lash out or internalize; this is a vicious cycle. When you separate the emotion from the behavior, however, you can help your child understand the social cost of their behaviors and hopefully teach them better coping strategies for their emotions. Her next idea is that: "emotion-regulation is about love, not will-power." Flexible and authentic regulation is more about love, for yourself and for others: being true to yourself while still considering and understanding the needs and feelings of other people. Toddlers and other ages of young children often have a hard time putting themselves in the shoes of other people, which is often why, as parents, you may perceive their behaviors as "acting out." This causes a struggle because instead of teaching them how to appropriately react to experience their own emotions, parents focus on having "good " behavior and doing what is "right." This brings up the next idea: "we can't control our kids or their emotions (and we don't need to.)" Children are their own independent beings with their own desires and needs, but asking them to prioritize other people can be very developmentally challenging. "Instead, we need to focus on honoring our child's impulses and their emotions and helping them learn how to express their feelings and impulses in a way that honors both their needs and relationships." Her last tip is to: "help your child develop flexible emotion-regulation" by accepting the impulse and the emotion underneath their behavior. By doing this, you are teaching your child that their impulses are not wrong; they are valid and deserve to be heard and expressed. She ends this article by saying, "These are the building blocks of self-compassion and positive relationships. Of being able to love and be loved - the greatest need, the greatest emotion, the greatest impulse of all."

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