How To Support And Parent Little Kids With Big Feelings
Why is this so hard? Am I’m doing something wrong? Why can’t I fix this…
There’s a deep vulnerability and sometimes unrealistic fear while I learn to parent my little one who feels too big to handle. Parenting a child with big emotions can be overwhelming, confusing, and even discouraging. Yet, there are truths that remind me it’s not about me and this is an opportunity not an inconvenience.
Friend I’m in the thick of this season. Having a child with big emotions and feelings can be overwhelming to parent, I won’t lie. Constantly asking myself these very questions, doubting if I’m even parenting “correctly,” and clinging on to moments that seem like progress. One thing is for sure, no one method works all of the time.
Replacing embarrassment for supportive parenting
The stares while an epic meltdown is unfolding are the worst. No one wants to say it, but their faces show with intensity what I feel – I’m not able to control my kid. There’s some truth to that. In my own strength I can’t. I’m actually really bad at it. I flip out, yell, make irrational threats, and respond out of embarrassment – not love.
It was one of those days where I refused to buy another toy to placate the whining and ensuing tantrums. We were checking out and WHAM it happened! He threw himself on the floor… with one babe on my hip, another trying to help, and the one unraveling – I was ready to cry. Did I mention the line behind me and the cashier?
As I briefly closed my eyes I felt the Lord tell me “don’t allow the opinions of others to miss protecting your son’s heart.” I felt convicted, because the pressure I felt was to snatch him up and let him know who’s boss. Instead I needed to kneel down, be firm, and stay calm. I chose the later that day… it made a difference in me.
4 supportive parenting approaches for big emotions
As we grow together, my perspective changes and my responses shift. I find myself seeking to understand rather than fix. This season has also allowed Mike and I to parent in a more unified fashion. We lean on each others strengths and even openly seek support from one another in weak areas.
So we’re absorbing, stretching, growing, and yep learning. Here are four shifts we’re finding helpful:
1. Problematic Behaviors or Inconvenient Behaviors? Most negative behaviors from kids fall into “problem” behaviors, but they aren’t always problematic. In fact, depending on age and ability, they’re forms of communication. So we’ve begun separating and classifying problem behaviors such as intentional aggression, being harmful to yourself or others, even refusal to listen. These have helped weed out the level we address situations. Is what my child doing actually an issue or is it annoying to me? I yell far less when I hear whining, because I know it’s inconvenient. And I can quickly address hitting a sibling, because it’s not safe.
2. Finding the REAL need. When I began listening to my four year old, I started catching how dismissive I can be. I will ask a question, then cut him off or answer for him. As I became more aware of myself, I could see how much it bothered him. Our kids need to be heard too. It’s not exactly fun to listen, but it’s necessary. Parenting a child with big emotions requires focused attention I’m learning. Our son was actually telling us what he really needed and I was too busy missing it. So the tantrums get my attention or the yelling match. For him the real need in this season is to be assured that we love him. As our family grows he needs to know there’s a space for him…and we’re listening.
3. Speaking life in the midst of frustration. Death and life are in the power of the tongue… What I say about my kids even when they aren’t with me affects them. Even what I allow others to say impacts who they believe they are. I used to easily entertain when others would say “oh he’s just bad,” until I heard him say “I’m bad.” It broke my heart, because his behaviors aren’t meant to define him. He was listening to what others were saying about him, and it was only speaking to the surface not the crux of him. Even when I’m angry, I’m practicing to speak to the child I know and adore. To intentionally separate the behaviors that I don’t care for. Our words make a difference, I’m using them much more wisely.
4. Putting discipline in perspective. Discipline gets a bad rep honestly. The true definition of discipline is really the practice of training to obey – it’s not punishment. I wrote this post, because discipline takes intentional work. It’s not a quick remedy, but rather deep character building. With our middle son we learned spanking wasn’t the answer. It became more confusing than corrective. So we had to roll up our sleeves and really define what was the goal and the concerns. From there we knew we needed to exercise wisdom and address with practicing with him the behaviors we want to see. It’s so much work, but it’s work that’s growing our character and his.
I saw this the other day and I’m holding fast to it – Motherhood is Kingdom Work. I don’t just want to pray away characteristics or behaviors that I don’t like. I want my journey of motherhood to be the best investment I ever made into the little ones I’ve been given. So even on my worst day when it’s all going down, I’m reminded that I can make an impact.