Taking care of emotions: A guide for parents and their kids

Dealing with our own emotions is difficult, but throw in your child's emotions, and it can become tumultuous. Psychologist Lawrence Cohen shares his tips for taking care of emotions.

I believe that the language we use influences the ways we think and act, so I am troubled by phrases such as ‘emotional control’, ‘handling emotion’, and even ‘emotional regulation’. How can children respond to the demand to control their emotions?

Instead, I prefer the language of meeting emotions, sitting with emotions, soothing emotions, releasing emotions, and taking care of emotions.

Take care of your own emotions

Here are 10 ways to take care of your own emotions:

  1. Practice expressing emotions in fun and silly ways (try it right now – Laugh! Cry! Scream! Shake! Stomp!)
  2. Make a Family Emotion Memory chart (when you were growing up, how did each member of your family express each emotion)
  3. Create an Emotions Comfort Zone Map (Draw three circles. Inside the inner circle put emotions you are comfortable with. Inside the middle circle put emotions that make you a little uncomfortable, and in the outer circle – or beyond it – put emotions that really bother you.)
  4. Tell your emotions how you feel about them (Hello sadness. You make me feel lethargic and helpless.)
  5. Ask your emotions what they have to say to you (Hey, this is your anger speaking. Why are you so afraid of me, I’m only trying to protect you.)
  6. Take a step closer to an emotion you usually push away.
  7. Explore emotions with full awareness (take your time and notice what the emotion feels like in your mind, in your body, in your urges to take action)
  8. Ease a turbulent emotion (This is not the same as pushing it away. Easing emotion is like ripples in a pond that fade away after you drop a rock)
  9. Release emotions (This is the same as #1, except more real and less playful)
  10. Bring intense emotions down to a manageable level so they can be explored, eased, or released (Take a cold shower, do some vigorous exercise, or pretend you are running away from a tiger).

Take care of your child's emotions

We can also take care of our children’s emotions instead of dismissing them, ignoring them, controlling them, or desperately trying to change them.

Here are eight ideas:

  1. Create a Comfort Zone Map like the one above, but this time about your children’s emotions
  2. See their emotions
  3. Show that you see their emotions by reflecting them back (I see that you are very sad, oh you’re mad! Wow that was scary)
  4. Open your heart to their emotions (Don’t just see the emotion, but accept it and even welcome it: Tell me more about it.)
  5. Show that your heart is open by putting down your phone and other distractions
  6. Give children’s emotions the time they need
  7. Give emotions the room they need (A ‘free speech zone’ when children have strong emotions can help you listen without getting so triggered by the ways they express themselves)
  8. Listen more and talk less.

About the author

Lawrence Cohen, PhD, is a psychologist, author, and consultant living in Brookline, MA, USA.  He is the author of Playful Parenting, an award winning book about nurturing close connections, solving behaviour problems, and encouraging children’s confidence.  Playful Parenting has been translated into more than ten languages. In addition to his work with children and parents, he consults with schools, after school programs, and corporations, and has a general psychotherapy practice.

This article originally appeared in the Playful Parenting newsletter.

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