To understand your child’s outward displays of behaviour, you must take a step back and remind yourself of what is at the root of them. This is of course their feelings and emotions. Your child’s feelings – the bodies motivators – are prompting their actions. And while they still have such a limited understanding of what their feelings mean, they need your support if they are to manage the behaviours they prompt.
Feelings are neither good nor bad, they are simply motivators for the body
Our feelings signal the potential that something is about to happen. Or they are offering a warning sign that something needs to change. When thought of this way, they cannot be considered right or wrong. Neither can some be thought of as good while others bad, they simply ‘are’. As such, you are not looking to deny your child their feelings, but you do need to teach them how to take responsibility for what they do with them.
Other people do not determine your feelings
As strange as it may sound, no one else can determine your feelings. This means that no one else can make you sad or angry. They may provoke you or invite you to be angry, but you are in control of how you respond. And you alone are responsible for the consequences of that choice.
Feelings drive our behaviours, but this is an active choice that we need to learn to take control of
For a child who is so often powerless within a situation, it can be difficult to choose how to respond when they do not feel in control. Children are not experienced in recognising or naming their emotions and they do not have a long history of experiences and consequences to draw on.
You need then to teach your child how to recognise their feelings, so that they can learn what to do with them. While acknowledging them as real and legitimate and without passing judgement. Once this is achieved, you can teach them how to develop ways of purposefully managing their behaviours as they learn to address their anger, fear or hurt with time, experience and practice.
Sometimes children act out in uncharacteristically aggressive, defiant, or destructive ways
When this happens, look firstly to see if any of your child’s triggers are at play. Are they tired, hungry, frustrated, or unwell? Could it be that your expectations of them in this moment are more than they can manage? If this is not the case, consider that these behaviours may be more of a cry for help than a need for punishment. While these behaviours cannot be condoned or ignored, they may be masking deeper feelings, so be extra vigilant while they are working through the problem.
Help them understand it is okay to feel angry, frustrated or hurt – it is not okay to lash out
Your child is learning how to feel their emotions. They are trying to make sense of the feelings that these emotions evoke along with developing an understanding of their bodies and the responses that are being triggered. All these processes are going to come with mistakes and great frustration. So being shouted at or threatened by the one you are looking to for love, support and guidance can have long term effects on your child’s dignity and self-worth.
So, teach them that everyone has feelings, that feelings are important and not to be feared. Show them that you trust that they can handle them confidently and assertively. And you are always there with kindness, support and guidance should things go a little wrong.
This session is taken from our course: The Secure Child
Dr Kathryn Peckham is an Early Childhood Consultant, author and researcher and the founder of Nurturing Childhoods. Providing all the knowledge, understanding and support you need to nurture your growing child. www.nurturingchildhoods.co.uk
DEVELOPING EVERY CHILD’S POTENTIAL