Have you noticed changes in your child’s behavior? Maybe they are not doing as well in school as they used to, or they have pushed away their close friends. Whatever the case, you can tell something is wrong.
You may not always be able to understand what is making your child upset. Children often lack the emotional maturity or vocabulary to put into words what they are feeling. They may feel as if they do not have a voice, or that no one understands them, so they express themselves in the only way they know how - by acting out.
Children do not innately have the skills to deal with their negative emotions. This can lead to future behavioral problems and can harm their mental and emotional development. If you notice major changes in your child’s behavior, they might be experiencing feelings such as anger, sadness, or fear, to name a few.
You can help them curb outbursts via self-soothing techniques and teach them to express negative emotions in healthy ways.
Help them practice deep belly breathing. If your child is showing signs of anger, chances are that their needs are not being met. Taking a deep breath is a great way for your child to ground themselves and relieve tension in order for them to communicate their needs to you. Another way of practicing deep breathing is to use the Five-Finger Relaxation Technique. Using either their right or left hand, have your child follow these directions:
Touch your index finger to your thumb.
As you do, think back to a time when you felt healthy fatigue. Maybe after a long day of playing outside, think about how good it felt to finally sit down and take a break.
Touch your middle finger to your thumb.
Remember a time when you felt a loving physical touch. Think about a time where you received a hug from someone special or a pat on the back for a job well done.
Touch your ring finger to your thumb.
Recall the nicest compliment you have received. You did a great job, and someone took the time to tell you this.
Finally, touch your pinky to your thumb.
Think of your favorite place you have visited. Think about all the sounds, smells, and colors of this place.
Talking them through the motions of deep breathing is a great way to calm down your angry child, but this does not always work. If your child has become completely overwhelmed with anger that they are in a fit of rage, you may not be able to have a conversation with them. If this happens, try kneeling down to your child’s eye level and give them affection. You might say I’m here for you or Can I give you a hug? This will show your child that you care about their feelings and will be there to listen when they are ready.
2. When your child is feeling Sad:
Help them find a creative outlet to soothe their sadness. This can be drawing, coloring, or starting an arts and crafts project. Participating in the arts is a great way for your child to process their emotions when they lack the vocabulary to fully express themself.
For example, if your child is unable to tell you why they are sad, you might ask them to draw how they are feeling. Maybe they used dark colors in their drawing, or they included pictures of what is making them upset. By having them draw out their feelings, your child may have an easier time expressing themself because they have a visual representation of their emotions. This can help them make connections between their sadness and what they associate with it.
3. When your child is feeling Guilty:
Help them build up their self-esteem. When their parents' divorce, children often engage in self-blame and feel shame, which takes a major toll on their self-esteem. You can help your child ease their guilt by doing confidence-boosting activities with them. One such activity is filling out a Love Me Tree. This is where your child writes down things they love about themself in the shape of a tree. Another great activity is to fill a page with positive affirmations. Here are some examples of prompts that you can provide your child:
I love me because ____.
I am good at _____.
I am most proud of _____.
The best thing about me is _____.
It is important to emphasize to your child that they are not to blame for adult problems. When your child has a high level of self-esteem, they will feel less guilt over things that are out of their control.
4. When your child is feeling Depressed:
Help them feel understood. If you notice your child has become completely withdrawn, it is important to validate their feelings. Tell them I’m here for you and let them know that you are willing to listen when they feel ready. Remember to be patient if this happens. It may seem trivial, but your child may need some time before they are willing to open up about their feelings.
It may also be a good idea to spend quality with your child. You can engage in physical play with them in order for them to release some tension and get out of their own negative mindset.
5. When your child is feeling Afraid:
Help them realize that what they fear is not reality. Your child may be afraid that your relationship with them will change post-divorce, or perhaps other insecurities can leave them feeling constantly worried. If your child is acting out because of fear, try some of these powerful phrases to calm them down:
I know this is hard for you.
Let’s work this out together.
That was a scary situation. Are you ok?
I hear you.
Can you tell me about it?
I love you, you are safe.
These phrases can be a very effective way to soothe your child because you are showing them that they are not alone. When they feel understood and validated in times of fear, your child is more likely to come to you with their worries in the future. Teach your child these phrases when they are young, and they will be able to self-soothe their fears with positive affirmations as they grow into their own unique individual.