Parents can help their children when they are experiencing “big feelings” by trying to understand the thoughts and feelings that might be underneath the problem behavior.
In the midst of a tantrum parents might simply try letting their child know that they are “with” them by mirroring their feeling state, i.e., “You’re so angry that you have to leave the store right now. Very, very angry!”
Behavioral problems are often an outward sign of something going on in a child’s inner world. For example, if a child is having trouble because he needs to be more active than the situation allows, he may not have the language to express frustration and will instead show his feelings through negative or distressed behaviors. A toddler might become aggressive for instance, and an infant might fuss and have difficulty being soothed. On the other hand, an over-stimulating environment can be equally problematic for a different child when his ability to integrate all of the information he is receiving through his senses is overwhelming.
When the child calms down, parents can help him by trying to understand the thoughts and feelings that might be underneath the problem behavior. In this way, a parent can help his child learn how to make sense of his or her internal experience. By doing so, the child will, over time, have the inner resources to manage him or her own self. With infants, of course, parents should simply meet their child’s needs in a responsive way.
Parents can do several things to minimize behavioral problems: 1) include their children in problem-solving, 2) put words to what the child might be thinking and feeling, and 3) set appropriate limits consistently but with flexibility and with understanding for what the child is experiencing.
Over time, a parent’s effort to understand their child’s inner experience can help lessen or prevent acting out behaviors.
For further tips and ideas about how to address your child’s feelings visit blog.wellbabycenter.org
Deborah Groening is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Psy.D. Candidate and Certified Infant-Mental Health Specialist. She is also the Executive Director of Well Baby Center.