Managing Our Emotions – Part 2 (of 2)

» Posted in Family Life, Marriage and Relationships, Parenting, Personal Growth | 0 comments

 white flag

Having declared a ceasefire in their emotional warfare, the Jones family was learning how to take responsibility for their own emotions.  For the Jones parents, they were learning how they were responsible for setting the emotional climate in their home – to be a thermostat not a thermometer in setting the emotional temperature for their children.  They were beginning to experience light bulb moments in learning how to NAME IT and the CLAIM IT in dealing with their emotions and teaching their kids to do the same.  In Part 1 of this two part series on Managing Our Emotions, I introduced the first two parts of my rhyme that reminds us of how we can regulate ourselves:

Name It,

Claim It,

Tame It,

Never Shame It

TAME ITis the next step to handling our emotions, and this is when you learn how to process how you feel in a healthy way, and then make good decisions about how to respond.  TAME IT actually has three components, the first is validating how you feel, the second is responding or problem-solving, and the third is letting it go.

Instead of giving in to your emotions or dismissing them, take the time to journal or talk yourself through how you feel and then give yourself empathy for how you’re feeling.  This may feel weird at first, but it’s an important part of self-soothing and it helps us to calm ourselves down.  Everyone needs empathy and validation for how they feel, and in fact, empathy is key to calming down our brains and preventing a melt-down.

And for our kids, as you regularly validate their emotions, they will eventually learn to internalize that capacity and so they will learn to validate their emotions for themselvesEven if it’s anger they feel, we need to validate their anger rather than trying to punish them for their anger or shutting them down.  As I talk about in my CD, Parenting with your HEART, it’s vital that we validate our kids’ anger so that they can then use this emotion to stand up for themselves and be empowered to set healthy boundaries with others rather than be walked all over on.  Empathy also helps them calm down much more quickly so that you can actually reason with them.   Our kids also need to learn that emotions aren’t right or wrong in of themselves, they just are.  Even if how they feel is based on wrong assumptions, their emotions are very real to them and require understanding.

Once we’re calm, we’re now in a much better place to problem-solve.  First I ask myself, Do I have any control over the situation that caused my feelings in the first place?  If yes, I pray and ask God for guidance as I try to plan out my strategy of how to solve the problem (for example, if I’m angry because the car isn’t working properly, then I take it to the mechanics to get it fixed).  If I don’t have control over the situation (e.g., if my husband chooses to say a hurtful thing to me – I might have control in that I can let him know that he hurt me, but I don’t have any control over whether he chooses to say that hurtful thing to me), then I work through letting it go – this may include choosing to forgive the offender or person who hurt me, but ultimately I give my emotions to God and try to move on.  Often this means “putting aside” the thoughts that continue to ruminate in my mind to focus on praising God and thanking him for the many blessings in my life.

In coaching our kids around their emotions, we need to teach our kids how to think through the situation that led to their emotional response.  As I said, the first question they need to consider is whether they have any control over the situation.  So, for example, if they feel sad because their friend has moved away, they can’t do anything about bringing their friend back.  In that instance, you help them to mourn the loss and then let it go.  If they do have control over the situation, say, they feel sad that their friend hasn’t called them, then they can problem-solve how they can resolve that situation.  They can call them or email them or invite their friend over to play.

This type of problem-solving is such an important skill because it teaches our kids to focus their energies on what they do have control over, while letting go of things over which they have no control.  It is a life skill that will help them navigate through all sorts of challenges as they grow up and is absolutely key to resiliency.

TAME IT also teaches our kids to take ownership for when their emotions led them to do negative things, and to apologize to the person that they hurt or offended.  In that example with the friend who didn’t call, perhaps your child said something hurtful to her friend and that’s why she didn’t call her or didn’t want to play with her, and so part of problem-solving in that instance is to apologize and make up to her friend for her hurtful words.

Once our kids have determined any steps they need to take, they can go ahead and respond as they need to, and then let it go, regardless of the outcome of their attempts to problem-solve.  So if in our previous example, our child calls a friend to come over to play and that friend declines, they can acknowledge their sadness but then learn to let it go.

There are different strategies we can teach our kids to help them let it go.  For example, you can try using humour or some catch phrase.  When my kids were younger, I taught them to say, “oh well, it smells”, which invariably brought a giggle to them.   Another strategy is rationalizing, by trying to look at the situation and give some plausible reasons why it turned out the way it did.  So for example, you might help your child to think of why their friend declined to come over to play, such as maybe they were busy, or maybe they were tired.  You can also help your child to see the situation from a positive perspective (so for example, you can talk about how they’ve always wanted to invite a different friend over so why not go ahead and invite that other friend).

One particular strategy that I’ve found very useful is to teach your kids to focus on positive thoughts or things that make them feel happy inside.  This will help them to distract from their negative emotions so that they can put them aside.  Happy thoughts are a great way to turn things around for them.  So for example, I’ll get my kids to think about something they’re looking forward to, say a party or some upcoming event.

Finally NEVER SHAME ITThis is a critical step because often we try to “should” ourselves out of feeling a certain way – I shouldn’t feel this way or that way – especially as a Christian.  Christians shouldn’t get angry, right?  By shaming my feelings, it actually exacerbates my pain, because I then begin to beat myself up with condemnation and shame.  All of us need empathy and understanding of our feelings – we can do that for ourselves as we listen to God’s compassion and grace.  When we shame ourselves for feeling a certain way, we end up preventing the healthy processing that we need to resolve our feelings.  So it’s about giving ourselves permission to feel what we feel so that we can begin to examine and respond to our emotions.

Change ALWAYS happens in the soil of grace; without grace, there’s only control and fear, but with grace, there’s growth and change.  Accept our feelings as they exist – I can’t control whether they pop up in me or not (that’s an automatic response), but I CAN control how I choose to handle and respond to my feelings.  And in giving our emotions permission to exist (since they will anyways) and choosing not to shame them, it gives us much greater power to actually manage them.

And remember, emotions were initially designed by God as an alert system to things going on in us that we need to deal with – kind of like the dashboard of your car letting you know when your gas is low or when you need to repair something.  So remember, when your emotions get triggered in a given situation, name it, claim it, tame it, never shame it.

If you’re interested in learning more about how we can manage our emotions and have healthy relationships, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or subscribe to receive my blogs automatically by email.  Feel free to ask me questions by clicking on “Ask Dr. Lin” to the right of the website.

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