When tears flow or tantrums erupt, there is one magical thing you can do to make a positive difference as your child works through strong emotions. It’s not easy an easy thing to remember in the heat of the moment, but it is simple to implement and requires no special props or supplies. Here it is:
Acknowledge your child’s feelings.
This is not the same thing as agreeing with or indulging or glossing over their behavior. Acknowledging is a way to show that you understand what your child is feeling, that you understand their point of view. The script might go something like this…
“I know how much you want an ice cream cone,
but we won’t be having dessert until later.”
“You are sad because it’s time to leave the park and you are having fun.”
When a child feels understood it is easier for them to calm down and move on — that is where the magic comes in. Acknowledgement unlocks what is going on below the surface and helps a child connect how they are feeling with how they are acting. It encourages language development and emotional intelligence. Sometimes, the act of acknowledging itself can melt the upset. In other instances, acknowledgment is just the first step in a process that will involve providing appropriate choices (“You can walk to the car holding my hand or I can carry you.”), follow through on expectations, and the offer of a hug at the end.
As parents, we often say, “You’re okay” or “You’ll be okay” as a way to minimize our child’s emotional responses to situations. While this may appear to be a quick fix, it is a missed opportunity to teach. The downside of this approach is that it sends a message that their feelings are something to be ignored - which is the opposite of what children need to do if they are going to learn to regulate their feelings. Feelings need to be acknowledged and understood so that children can learn skills to regulate them in appropriate ways.
Interested in learning more? Here are some brief video clips on this topic from experts in the field of early childhood: