Karen Carter patrolled with the Coast Guard. Henry Owens enlisted in the Navy. These veterans all served their country.
The idea that a six-month-old could feel fear or anger, no less sadness and grief, was preposterous. But thanks to an explosion in research on infancy in the last 30 years, we now know that babies and toddlers are deeply feeling beings.
Starting in the earliest months of life, well before they can use words to express themselves, babies have the capacity to experience peaks of joy, excitement and elation. They also feel fear, grief, sadness, hopelessness and anger—emotions that many adults understandably still find it hard to believe, or accept, that very young children can experience.
So a critical first step in helping your child learn to cope with her feelings is not to fear the feelings, but embrace them—all of them. Sadness and joy, anger and love, can co-exist and are all part of the collection of emotions children experience.
When you help your child understand his feelings, he is better equipped to manage them effectively. One major obstacle in doing this which I see quite often in my work with parents is that they are operating under the assumption that having a happy child means he needs to be happy all the time.
Something I still have to keep reminding myself despite the fact that my children are in their twenties!
Muscling through difficult experiences, mastering struggles, and coping with sadness and grief builds strength and resilience, and is ultimately what brings children a sense of contentedness and well-being. What can parents do?
This might mean stopping a tickling game with a four-month-old when she arches her back and looks away, signaling she needs a break. Or taking a nine-month-old to the window to wave good-bye to Mom when he is sad to see her leave for work. Label and help toddlers cope with feelings.
Emotions like anger, sadness, frustration and disappointment can be overwhelming for young children. Naming these feelings is the first step in helping children learn to identify them and communicates to children that these feelings are normal.
Feelings are not the problem. Listen openly and calmly when your child shares difficult feelings. When you ask about and acknowledge feelings, you are sending the important message that feelings are valued and important. Recognizing and naming feelings is the first step toward learning to manage them in healthy, acceptable ways over time.
Avoid minimizing or talking children out of their feelings. This is a natural reaction—we just want to make the bad feelings go away.
You love playing with him. Teach tools for coping. If your month-old is angry that playtime is over, guide her to stamp her feet as hard as she can or to draw how angry she is with a red crayon.
Help a two-year-old who is frustrated at not being able to get the ball into the basket brainstorm other ways to solve the problem. Take a three-year-old who is fearful about starting a new school to visit his classroom beforehand to meet the teachers and play on the playground so that the unfamiliar can become familiar.
Instead, see these experiences as teachable moments to help your child learn to name and manage the emotions—positive and negative—that add depth and color to our lives.
Show your child that a full, rich life means experiencing both the ups and the downs. And it starts on day one. About Claire Lerner, L.
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