While your child may have moved beyond temper tantrums, they may still be prone to explosive outbursts, anger, or rage.
Perhaps, they have started to bottle up their emotions and are more prone to teenage door slams and silent shutdowns.
Children and teens are still developing their emotional intelligence and self-regulation.
Creating a safe space where emotions can be shared, owned, and understood can equip children with healthy ways to express their feelings and show there is no shame in feeling emotional.
1. Model response over reaction
Creating a calm space can help children to learn that emotions can be fleeting and that taking time to pause can help to create a response rather than a reaction.
Parents and carers can model this calm behaviour by waiting 10 seconds before answering.
This can not only help diffuse the situation, but this 10-second pause can reduce your stress, putting you into a response state.
After this, give them your full attention. Showing you care about their feelings and being open and receptive to talking about it.
This can be hard when, for example, you’re running late and they still can’t find what they need to take with them.
However, mastering this may help your home feel calm and controlled.
2. Name the emotion
Developing emotional intelligence, helps kids to start recognising and labelling a range of emotions, both positive and negative.
You can model this with, “I feel X because of Y.”
Using this framework can help children to share how they’re feeling in a way that’s easy to explain.
If they’re unsure what emotion they’re experiencing, offer suggestions.
“Do you feel sad because this happened – is that right?”
If you are suggesting emotions, remember to check for understanding and be open to them telling you that you’re wrong.
This can lead to a constructive conversation where you explore different emotions and how they show up for different people.
It is also essential to validate their emotions that it’s normal to have these feelings, with phrases such as “I understand.
This made you feel angry because you wanted a different outcome. Is that right?”
3. Be open with your own emotions
Often, adults don’t share their emotions. But, by giving children an insight into how you feel, you’re showing that it’s normal to feel different emotions.
It can also help children to understand links between emotions, tone of voice and body language – all important to developing emotional intelligence.
For example, “I’m feeling stressed right now because we’re late, and I’d rather walk at a relaxed pace than get hot and sweaty.”
Or “I am feeling frustrated because I asked you to help me, but you haven’t.”
This way of sharing your feelings models openness and introduces children to different emotions and why they may come up.
4. Create a connection
For children and teens, emotions can be a tangled web. It can be hard to explain reactions or process emotions.
What’s more, it’s proven that teens will feel emotions more intensely.
So, if you’re struggling to understand your child’s reaction, lead with empathy.
Using eye contact and closeness helps to build the connection between you both and creates a safe space.
Try to diffuse the situation with warmth and gentleness, so they move into response mode rather than a reactive state.
Use check-back questions to ensure you’re not telling them what they feel.
It’s essential not to use your own opinion as fact. Stating “you were angry” can stop them from fully exploring what they were feeling.
Instead, check-back questions such as,
“It seemed like you were angry, am I on the right lines?”
and “Is there anything else you’re feeling?”
5. Use the empty chair
For children and teens, it is difficult to express emotion fully; using the empty chair technique is a safe and private space to let raw emotions out.
Sit them in one chair, and on the empty chair, you assign the situation or person on their mind.
Help them to picture the person or thing they are having conflict with.
Get them to speak to the empty chair outlining their feelings, emotions, and opinions.
Then ask them to sit in the other chair to take on the other person’s role. What would they say?
What would be their version of events? How would they handle the situation?
Then, switch back to their own chair and say exactly what you want to the situation/person and vent all the emotions.
Allow them to shout, cry or display whatever emotion they are feeling. This is a safe space.
For teens, they may not feel comfortable with you in the room for this, but you can explain the exercise for them to practice on their own.
Alternatively, offer to put headphones in while they vent if that makes them more comfortable.
Diffusing emotional energy in this practice can help them look back at the situation with more clarity and understanding.
As well as getting rid of some of the angst your child or teen might be experiencing, you can use this exercise to help them find a solution to the issue they had – looking at and exploring the situation from two different perspectives.
Ending the exercise on a calm and positive note is hugely beneficial.
Remember, this technique isn’t just great for kids; it can also be a valuable practice for adults!