Growing up is emotional. Your body is constantly changing. You are learning all sorts of new things – sometimes the hard way. Bad things happen because you live in a fallen world. You often feel like you are never doing things the way everyone else expects you to do them. Your emotions are swirling and confusing. The emotions you are feeling are often so very strong, they surprise and frighten even you.
Unfortunately, all of the emotions caused by life as a child can become overwhelming. As a result, kids are often tempted to act out in not so godly ways. They may say or do things they would normally never even think of saying or doing. They may cause harm to themselves or others. They often lash out at the people who love them the most. Some young people become so tired of the pain and confusion they will try anything – even things they know are harmful – in an attempt to get relief.
The good news is you can help your kids process their emotions, while making godly choices. In fact, even toddlers can often put the lid on tantrums by learning these tricks. (Although they may need your help – especially if they are already in the habit of throwing a tantrum.)
- Teach your children to name their emotions. This is particularly important for the preschool set, but studies have shown labeling emotions helps all ages have better control over what happens next. If the child is too young to be able to process and name the emotion, teach them to substitute sounds and facial expressions. When our daughter was tiny, for example, we told her she could growl like a tiger to show us how angry or frustrated she was. In the moment, she was too young to think of those words, but she knew the feelings and growled away for several months until she could use her words. Older kids can begin to understand the concept of secondary emotions. Anger, for example, is usually more about the underlying fear or frustration. Being able to label those secondary emotions will help your kids develop better action plans.
- Help your children develop a plan for each emotion – before they feel it. This won’t be necessary for every emotion, but it can make a huge difference with emotions that cause them issues. If your child struggles with making godly choices when he is angry, develop his “battle plan” before the next time he feels himself beginning to get angry. Have your child think of two or three simple things he can do to help him calm down and make better choices. Make sure at least one choice is “hidden” – something like prayer that no one but the child realizes is happening. Your child’s plans may also include avoiding certain situations or people that make it more likely for him to make poor choices. Make sure each of your kids has a plan for anger, anxiety, loneliness and sadness. If your child goes to college, you will learn how many kids struggle with anxiety and loneliness during those years – often resorting to very unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to relieve the pressure. Helping your kids think of healthy ways to deal with anxiety and loneliness can help many of them also avoid acting out in unhealthy ways for relief.
- Help your children practice their action plans. The type of practice and support needed will be different for each child. Some may need to act out different scenarios, practicing godly ways to act in each of them. Others will only need a discussion of the issues that would cause them to need these strategies. Children who are really struggling to use their new action plans may need you to create a special, subtle hand signal to remind them to use their action plan. (It’s best to use the signal at the first signs of the emotion that often causes them issues instead of waiting until they have begun to act out in negative ways.) Help your kids until these new, more godly ways of reacting have become habits.
- Help your children recognize triggers which make it more likely they will make poor choices or experience unnecessary emotions. Ever had a bad day and gotten really angry about something that normally wouldn’t even bother you? It’s important to help your kids realize certain factors can make it much more likely they will give in to the temptation to act in ungodly ways or to feel negative emotions at all. Help them develop good healthy habits to make sure they aren’t overly tired or hungry (and eat mostly healthy foods for balanced blood sugar). Many kids are also more susceptible to making poor choices when lonely or bored. Helping your kids recognize and meet those basic needs as soon as possible in godly ways, can put a curb on negative emotions and ungodly choices.
These tips will take help from you for your child to learn and master. It may seem like a lot of work, but it is a lot easier than dealing with the consequences created by a child who has not learned to curb negative emotions and process them in godly ways. It is a Christian life skill definitely worth your time and effort to teach your children.