Tantrums, hysterical crying, stomping feet – as a parent, you are probably familiar with the strong emotions children often have – and the many ways they can be expressed.
Unfortunately, the “natural” ways kids express their emotions are not always the most healthy and godly ways to process them. As a parent, you need to help your children learn how to process their emotions in ways that are pleasing to God, yet still healthy for them.
Emotions aren’t sinful. God created those emotions and realizes certain circumstances can cause those feelings in all of us. What God does care about is what your kids do when they feel those emotions. He wants your kids to make godly choices in the ways they handle their feelings.
So what do you need to teach and encourage your children to do when they begin feeling an emotion – especially one that could eventually lead them to make sinful choices?
- Pray. This is especially helpful for older children who understand the consequences of making poor behavioral choices when feeling strong emotions. Teach them to pray in the moment for God to help them react and act in godly ways. If the event causing the emotion was traumatic – they may need to spend time in prayer telling God everything – multiple times. Remind them God listened to David’s prayers in Psalms when he was upset and confused, and God will listen to them, too.
- Tell you or another trusted adult. Sometimes, a young person just needs someone to listen while they vent their emotions in a safe place. Teach them to find you and talk to you before doing something they may later regret. You don’t want them constantly tattling or reliving the same experience over and over, but you do want them to be able to think through their feelings out loud with an adult who can help guide them.
- Give them a large emotional vocabulary. Sometimes the acting out stems from an inability to express their emotions in ways that seem to really reflect how they are feeling. Teach them words for the different levels of anger, sorrow, happiness, etc.
- Encourage them to cry if needed. Maybe they don’t need to do it in the moment for their own safety, but the need to cry is our body needing to rid itself of stress. Sometimes, the best thing for your child is just to cry it out of their system. They don’t need to be hysterical or throw a tantrum. I usually suggest a cry with a parent nearby for hugs or while praying at night before going to sleep.
- Teach them healthy coping strategies. They need to know of strategies like counting to 50 or going for a run to help them regain their self-control and/or calmness. Older children and teens also need to be taught what coping strategies really lead to more problems. Peers for example may suggest getting drunk to your sad child. Alcohol is a depressant and your kids need to know that drinking when upset will only make depressing news feel even more depressing.
- Brainstorm possible solutions to the problem that cerated the emotion. Sometimes, there really is nothing anyone can do. Your child will need to learn how to process those emotions in healthy ways and move forward with their lives. Many times though, there is something concrete they can do to resolve situations that caused the strong emotion. Inconsolable because they failed a test? Studying and/or tutoring may keep that bad experience from happening again.
- Set a good example. There really is more to processing emotions than just expressing it and “getting it out of your system.” At times, it also requires forgiving someone who doesn’t think they have even done anything wrong. It should always involve beginning to move forward again, instead of remaining in a negative emotion and constantly reliving the painful event that caused it. Otherwise, strong emotions can become firmly entrenched ungodly attitudes like bitterness and hate. None of us are perfect at emotional control, but your children will learn a lot from you talking about how events make you feel and what you are doing to be godly in those situations (in age appropriate ways).
Processing strong emotions is difficult for all of us. Teaching and mentoring your children in godly ways to handle their emotions will help them make better choices. It can also save them and you from the negative consequences and heartache that often result from processing emotions in ungodly ways.