Tonight we had chicken stir fry for dinner. Mr H had spent 20 minutes cooking a lovely meal that we could all enjoy as a family. And it was a yummy dinner. Mr H and I ate the whole thing.
However, Little Mister H was not happy about his dinner. He clearly wanted fish fingers and chips or jacket potato with cheese and beans. So he became angry and ended up throwing some of his food at me.
He’s a 23-month-old learning to control his emotions. He’s going to get upset. He is human. And to be human is to have emotions. Our children need to learn that it’s okay to react emotionally. However, they also need to learn that sometimes the way they react to these emotions is not okay.
The Importance Of Validating Your Children’s Emotions
It was perfectly understandable that Little Mister H got upset tonight. He didn’t get the dinner that he wanted. He got a meal that he had never eaten before. As his parent, I can help him to understand that it’s natural to be upset about something like that. However, throwing food at your Mummy because you’re angry is not okay. So we need to also teach him the difference between emotions and behaviours. And we need to lay down rules about which behaviours are right and which are wrong.
This is something that I’m gradually learning thanks to my work with Skylark Learning and our use of My First Emotions. Not only are we using the box and the educational tools inside to help Little Mister H develop emotional intelligence. But I’m also learning how my parenting can help him to understand and control his emotions.
I want Little Mister H to learn that there is nothing wrong with being emotional. We all feel sad when we lose something we love. And it’s natural to feel disappointed and angry when someone lets you down. As adults, we know how to control these emotions. We learn that it’s wrong to lash out at someone when we’re sad or angry. But the only way our children can learn this is with our help.
The Language Of Emotional Validation
This means that I’ve been consciously changing the language that I use and the way that I react in these situations. In the past, I may have told Little Mister H off for getting upset and throwing food. Or I would have told him to calm down. I’d also probably say that it’s stupid to be upset about something so trivial.
By responding in this way, I’m telling Little Mister H that his behaviour and his emotional reaction are wrong. That I want him to stop being emotional. He will learn that it’s wrong to feel anger and sadness. As a result, Little Mister H might come to believe other emotions such as love, happiness and fear are also unnatural. And this is the last thing I want.
As a mother who struggles with mental ill health, my greatest fear is that my children will also suffer when they are older. So I want to do everything in my power to help them develop emotional intelligence. I can’t control what happens in their lives. I’m unable to stop bad things happening to them. Their lives are likely to contain times of sadness, anger and fear. And I can’t stop their lives being affected by mental ill health. But as a parent, I can do all that I can to help them understand their emotions. Through my words and actions, I can help them to realise that emotions are good but some behaviours are bad.
Last Night’s Lesson
Anyway, back to last night’s dinner and Little Mister H throwing food at me. Before reacting to his behaviour, I took a deep breath and I decided how I was going to respond. I chose to validate the emotion but acknowledge that his behaviour wasn’t acceptable.
So, I looked directly at Little Mister H and in a calm voice I said:
“You didn’t get the dinner you wanted and that has made you angry. It’s frustrating when you don’t get what you want. But we don’t throw food. That is not a nice thing to do.”
He did calm down eventually and he began to eat his dinner. In fact, in the end, he ate more than his sister. And we managed to have a lovely family dinner together. I imagine that it could have been a different story if I’d reacted angrily.
Of course, I’m not always brilliant at validating my children’s emotions. I still sometimes tell them not to cry or to stop being angry. I’m only human but I’m really trying. And I have noticed a difference especially with Little Miss H, our five-year-old daughter. If she is sad or angry then by validating her emotions, I’m telling her that it’s okay to feel as she does and that I’m there to help her cope with those feelings. This helps her to understand her emotions and has also led to us developing a closer relationship.
Five Things To Remember When Validating Your Children’s Emotions
Here are five things to remember when you’re validating your children’s emotions:
1. Get down to their level and give them eye contact. An adult’s physical presence can be really intimidating for a child. You’re taller and bigger. And this can seem especially threatening when they are sad and angry. So get down to their level and look them in the eye.
2. Provide them with comfort. Your first concern should be to comfort your child when they are upset. Give them a cuddle so that they know you love them and are there for them.
3. Tell them that you understand they are feeling sad, angry or scared and why this is. Let them know that it is normal to feel this way. Acknowledge their emotions. And remember not to tell them that they shouldn’t be sad or that they need to stop crying.
4. Be consistent. I know it is difficult, but it’s so important to try to be consistent when you’re validating your child’s emotions. A lack of consistency is likely to confuse your child. They’re likely to wonder why they are allowed to feel happy or sad on some occasions but not others.
5. Separate emotions and behaviours. It’s so important to acknowledge the emotions but condemn any bad behaviour that results from those emotions. That is why as a family, it’s good to have rules around behaviour. For example, we don’t hit, we don’t throw things at people or we don’t shout at our friends when we’re angry. Then when your toddler hits someone who has taken their favourite toy, you can simply say –
“I understand that you’re angry because that little boy took your favourite teddy. It’s difficult to have the toy you love taken away from you. However, we don’t hit other people. That’s not a nice thing to do. Why don’t you go and talk to the little boy and ask for the teddy back?”
Working With Skylark Learning and My First Emotions
Learning to validate my children’s emotions is such an important part of the journey to help them develop emotional intelligence. By separating out emotions and behaviours they will hopefully begin to understand that emotions are good but not all emotional responses are good. This, in turn, will give them the tools they need to control their feelings and react appropriately when they are happy, sad, angry or scared.
Thankfully, by working with Skylark Learning and My First Emotions, I’m learning how to adapt my parenting style, so that I can help my children to recognise and understand their emotions.
If you would like to read the other posts that I have written in partnership with Skylark Learning then you can read these here:
How do you validate your children’s emotions?
Over the next six months, I will be working in partnership with Skylark Learning to promote My First Emotions. However, as always, all words, opinions and images will be 100% my own and 100% honest. I’m hugely passionate about this resource and I’m proud to be able to bring your our journey with My First Emotions.