Who's responsible for our happiness?
TAKING CARE OF OUR EMOTIONAL WEATHER PATTERNS
By Rebecca Weber
A toddler defiantly refuses to eat what her parents have lovingly cooked because it’s not what she wants to eat. An eight-year-old claims to hate his younger brother when he interrupts his computer games. A teenager rolls her eyes when parents suggest that she should imagine a future beyond becoming a professional athlete/rock star. What should a parent do in front of such seemingly perpetual dissatisfaction? If we flatten out all the roadblocks that could potentially cause a child or young adult to suffer an uncomfortable emotion, they may not have the chance to develop the important skills needed to manage the frustrations and disappointments that life guarantees.
While parents cannot make their children happy, they singularly have the most important role in helping their child to be able to experience satisfaction. By modelling their own skills of managing uncomfortable feelings like frustration, anger, disappointment and worry, parents can teach their children skills in emotional intelligence. In turn, children can learn to identify what is happening within their internal emotional landscape and thereby acquire the capacity to experiment with different responses that they can then deploy when the emotional storm blows strong.
To help a child who is showing anger, frustration or deception, we don’t necessarily have to know why they are feeling that way - we can save that exploration for calm moments. Once we’ve lost our grip on our emotions, it’s almost impossible to rationally learn anything until the crisis has passed. Small children can be helped to name the emotion and be given distinct choices; they need their parents to propose specific solutions. Older children might quickly feel defensive and want to show that they are competent without their parents’ solutions - they can benefit from being reminded that they can ask for support.
Each of us is equipped with an emotional language specifically informed by our personalities, cultural and family backgrounds. Some tend to withdraw while others might nag and cry or burst out until their underlying emotional need has been recognised. Irrespective of individual styles, the more a parent is aware of their own response to frustration and anger, the easier it will be to accompany the child in learning to recognise their own emotions, establish behavioural boundaries and to accept alternatives or support. There are as many ways to respond to our expression of emotions as there are children, and it is up to each family to experiment with the ways in which they choose to navigate their emotional weather patterns, helping to make the intolerable more tolerable - and satisfaction more attainable.
Rebecca Weber, PhD, is a Clinical Psychologist specialised in Child and Adolescent psychotherapy. She works in private practice in Ferney-Voltaire and with the University of Geneva. Originally from California, her research and clinical work focus on gender, migrant families and school violence.
Kids in Mind is brought to you by : The British School of Geneva
Please note: any psychological advice or information provided in the Kids in Mind column in Voice Magazine is general information and should not be used to evaluate, diagnose or treat any specific concerns. Always check with your medical care provider if you have questions about your own children.Voice Magazine and/or Dr. Weber are not responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any damage resulting from the use of information contained in, or implied by the article published here.