“Have you finished your chores yet?” the mother asks as she catches a glimpse of her daughter rushing through the living room.
“Not yet,” comes the dismissive response.
“I asked you to get them done before dinner.” The mother moves to intercept her daughter, her voice slightly irritated. “How many times do I need to remind you?”
The girl stops, face set. “Stop bugging me!”
“Excuse me?” The mother frowns deeply, her voice pitching in anger, “Don’t use that tone with me! Get your chores done or you can forget about dinner!”
The same anger flashes back from her daughter’s eyes. She marches to her bedroom, “Fine!” and slams the door.
It’s often at that moment of the confrontation that a parent realizes how much their child is perhaps imitating their own behavior. The slamming of the door seems to punctuate the parent’s own failings when it comes to regulating their emotions during a confrontation. How devastating.
Consider: How often have you been swept away by your emotions during an exchange that ended up turning into a heated argument? Have your children observed this?
We all know that children learn more from what they see others do than what others say, including their parents. This unintentional education can be to their detriment or their benefit. So, if you want your child to benefit from the behavior they observe in you, you must start by regulating your own emotions. This will help them to learn how to regulate theirs as well.
How can you do this?
- Build an emotional vocabulary – Express your emotions by giving them names. Not only does this help you to identify your own emotions, but you’re helping your child learn what each emotion is. Then, when they feel these emotions themselves, they’ll be able to express them to you accurately. It gives them a measure of control, instead of being frustrated that you don’t understand their feelings.
- Experience the emotions – Trying to block your feelings or locking them up inside doesn’t help resolve the underlying issue. But when you allow yourself to experience emotions, they usually begin to vanish. That’s especially helpful when your emotions are negative. When your child observes you doing this, they begin to understand that feelings are perfectly normal and don’t need to be feared.
- Resist reacting – When you let an emotion rob you of your inner calm, it always ends up in chaos. Give yourself enough time to experience the emotions before you ever do anything with the situation that provoked it. Hold back that inner drive to want to do something about it and just breathe for a few moments. When the emotion subsides, handle the matter with your regained calm. Your good example will help your child see that an upsetting situation is not an emergency that must be addressed right then, and it will teach them to not be impulsive but to calm themselves before they act.
- Radiate peace – Being at peace means you must work on resolving your own issues. Your children inadvertently pick up on your moods and tensions and act accordingly. Being at peace with yourself and others helps your child change this poor behavior, even when you don’t directly address it. It gives your child an emotional anchor, and they become more open to your guidance.
- Show interest and compassion – Being there for others who experience emotional upset and compassionately listening helps you to gain insight into your own feelings. The added benefit is that your child can see that you’re truly interested in others and, therefore, will not only learn to be empathetic themselves but also feel safe to express their emotions to you. It creates more love, less drama.