I think the first time my son had an outburst of BIG emotions, it lasted for about 3 hours! It was scary, upsetting and horrible, I didn’t know what had triggered it or how to stop it happening. It was a Friday evening in December and I didn’t know who to turn to or how to get help. Since then, over the last two years or so, I have learnt some techniques that I could have used that evening to ease the situation, so I thought I would share.
Pause! It’s so important to just pause, try to stay calm and try not to react. Label the emotion – ‘ I can see you are feeling cross’, or similar. Then sit nearby, and say ‘ I’ll just wait here with you, is that ok?’. Sometimes knowing that someone is nearby can be reassuring. The pause gives you time to think of a plan while being present for the child.
The Anger Iceberg (gottman.com). The iceberg effect is very real. What you see above the water (anger) is very different from what is hidden below ( worry, fear, anxiety, guilt, etc etc). Many emotions appear as anger because the feeling is too big to cope with, but deep down there may be another reason. Try and keep a note of when the behaviour happens, such as bedtime, mornings etc. Tiredness, thirst and hunger can trigger these big emotions…. By keeping a note it may show a pattern which will help with making a plan to prevent or resolve.
One of the most beneficial things I learnt was to allow 15-20 minutes each day for special play with your child. Allow this time for uninterrupted play where the child chooses what to do and you play along. It builds a bond, gives the child good attention, and may open up conversations. Having a scheduled worry time is a good idea if the child bottles up his or her worries and saves them until bedtime. Just 5-10 minutes a day to have a quick chat about their worries might make bedtime easier. Make sure this is structured and doesn’t last too long, have a finish time…. Maybe have special play afterwards to do something enjoyable after talking about their worries.
During the Timid to Tiger Course I attended, we learnt to pay attention to the behaviour we want to see ( give specific and detailed compliments and praise when you see good behaviour) and don’t give attention to the behaviour we don’t want to see – as long as it is safe to ignore it ( if the child is at risk of getting hurt or hurting someone you obviously need to intervene).
There are many reasons that children can feel big emotions and not be able to cope such as bereavement, changes in friends or schools, problems at school with learning or friendships, tests or exams and so on. Just because your child is showing difficult behaviour, it probably is not a result of something you have or haven’t done.
It’s good to have boundaries in place, apparently the child feels safer and more secure if boundaries are there. If the child is slightly older then discuss this with them and both of you set out and agree the boundaries together.
For parents and carers, it can be really stressful, exhausting and upsetting to have a child who is not coping with their feelings and emotions. Talk to friends or family about your worries and don’t be afraid to seek help and support from organisations such as the parent + support hub. Try and take a regular break to have some quality ‘me’ time. It has been hugely beneficial for me to realise that I’m not alone in this situation.
So, two years on, we still have some blips, we still have big emotions but usually we can cope with them. We still re visit notes and reminders similar to the things I’ve mentioned above and we still pause. I think the main difference is that we now have a bigger understanding about mental well being and how to recognise when we need some help. We have some strategies that help in tricky situations and my son is generally less cross when he has big feelings. For me, I have more confidence and knowledge about how to react (or not react) and how to respond to different behaviours.