Have you ever experienced rage or fear? How did you manage those feelings? I’m sure you didn’t start biting others, or rolling on the floor screaming.
We, as adults, are very familiar with big feelings like anger, disappointment or fear and have learned to manage them and be able to acknowledge and express what we are feeling in certain situations.
Well, if you are a growing a tiny human, you most certainly have experienced a different reality with their feelings. When children experience these high intensity feelings, their still developing amygdala will communicate to their brain that they are in a threatening situation. This, in turn, will release the stress hormone to keep the body alert against the threat.
As adults, our responsibility is to make sure we step in and help them manage their response to these intense feelings. By guiding them through this process, you help their brain control the primitive impulses and think about the feeling. So, instead of biting or kicking, your child can understand what he is feeling and learn how to manage his response in a positive way.
Think about the last time you felt irritated because your child started screaming for the toy they saw in the store, or when he put up a tantrum just when it was time to go home from the party. You may think that he is doing this on purpose, or that he is not listening to you but, in reality, this is his brain’s way of coping with the unpleasant situations and the huge feelings that he is experiencing.
The best thing you can do in this situation is trying to comfort him and teach his system how to deal with the feelings.
First, recognise you child’s feelings and show him you understand what he is experiencing, even if you do not agree with they way he is expressing himself. Use age appropriate words to show empathy. Even if your child doesn’t understand all the words you are using, he will understand the tone of your voice, and the calmer you are, the more effective you will be as his body will try to mirror you body’s reactions in dealing with the stress.
As soon as his reactions start to calm down, you child will feel the need of physical comforting. When you hold them, their brain releases calming chemicals and will start to mirror your breathing, your heartbeats. In this way, you transfer your calmness onto your child and he learns, step by step, how to deal with these complex feelings of his.
I know that when you are confronted with a tantrum, the above actions may not be your first thoughts. But take a few breaths before acting in response to his behaviour, and acknowledge your child is not doing this on purpose. This is the only way his brain knows how to deal with a stressor, for now at least.
That’s when you come in and help him be a happier child because those feelings are not weighing him down anymore. You are also shaping the future adult, who will have a developed stress-regulating system and will know how to calm himself down.