Emotion processing for adults

voices of your village Sep 12, 2019



If you’ve been in our village for even a second, you know that building emotional intelligence in our tiny humans is our most important work as parents and caregivers. But have you ever wondered how you are supposed to teach them how to process their hard emotions if you’re not even sure how to process your own? Maybe you didn’t receive this skill-set growing up and wonder how, then, you can teach your kiddos. The truth is, you can’t teach what you don’t know, so a huge part of us teaching this to the tiny humans is building our own toolbox. This is so important because kiddos are going to do more of what they see than what you say. If they see you blowing up from having a hard emotion, they will likely also blow up when having a hard emotion. You can use all of the right language, but if you’re not modeling it, what you say isn’t going to go very far. I reached out to you, our village, on our Facebook page, and asked some questions about this topic, and on this episode of Voices of Your Village, I answer them.

The first concern I tackled was, “I want to know how I can be more patient, calm, and in control when $h!t hits the fan.”  What I would ask first is, “Are you setting boundaries and holding them?” I think it’s really common for us to move boundaries for kids and equate that to being patient, and then when we’ve moved the boundary for them all day long, and they still push it, that’s when we lose our cool. Kids are wired to test boundaries to see if they are real, and the more we hold boundaries, and the more consistent we are, the less the tiny humans will push them. But, you’re not going to set a rule and your kiddo say, “Great, I can’t wait to follow it.” We have to expect that they’re not going to like a boundary. We have to expect tantrums when we hold them. If these aren’t our expectations, then we will be frustrated when they are not met. Side note: If you haven’t already, tune in to episode 78 about what has been the biggest game-changer in my own emotion processing. This episode points out how we are often let down when our expectations aren’t met, and so we must have realistic expectations when it comes to our kiddos. If you can anticipate how your kiddo is going to act, then you can be better equipped to respond. This is also why “empty threats” are dangerous - you’re setting a boundary when you make one, so you better be prepared to follow through on it, because you should expect your kiddo to test it. If you say, “We’re going to leave this birthday party if you don’t stop x,y, and z,” then you absolutely have to leave the birthday party if they continue the behavior (which they will - expecting that is key). If you are not going to enforce the boundary, don’t set it. This is how kiddos learn to trust us or not - if we hold the boundary. You must be consistent and follow through. 

Another question I got was about identifying our triggers and figuring out how to respond differently. I truly do think that for so many people, it goes back to expectations. Many of us are triggered when things don’t go the way we expected them to or our kiddo doesn’t respond the way we expected them to. If things don’t go as expected, figure out more realistic expectations for next time and how you’re better going to respond. Being aware of your triggers is the first step in self-regulation in the wake of said triggers. 

I was also asked to address what some things are that adults can do to process emotions in a state of exhaustion. Whether it’s exhaustion or illness, you’re probably not going to as engaging because you just can’t bring your A-game and that’s okay. This is hopefully temporary.

Another serious question asked was, “What if mom or dad is going through a big life change (for example, the loss of a job). It’s harder to keep my cool when I have this black cloud hanging over me.” Fear is a doozy, and the best thing you can do about that right now is acknowledging that fear and then tapping into coping strategies to help yourself through this. Focusing on your own physical and mental health throughout this is extremely important. Having an honest conversation with yourself and your partner if applicable is a good place to start.

Maybe you’re also wondering, “How do I backtrack if I’ve just reacted instead of responded?” Let yourself off the hook. Make sure you are setting realistic expectations for yourself - do not expect to be perfect. If you’ve found yourself reacting, you can totally turn to your tiny human and say, “I’m sorry I yelled when I was frustrated. Next time I’m going to take some deep breaths to feel calm.” It’s okay to let them know you made a mistake and what you’ll do next time. It’s also not a bad idea to have a briefing with your kiddo at the end of the night to discuss why the wheels came off the bus today, and what changes can be made next time. 

I love this acknowledgment in this question so dang much: “How do we handle learning and teaching these skills at the same time?”. Remember that it’s not about perfection, it’s about intention. The more you practice and the more you commit to it, the easier it gets. You may be surprised to know that none of this comes naturally to me. I’m naturally a yeller and a reactor. I have committed and practiced and it still takes effort, but it’s gotten easier. There are certain things I do every single day that allow me to show up as the best me. You’ve got to figure out what you personally need in order to show up as the human you want to be. Do it unapologetically. Have enough respect and love for yourself to say you’re worth carving this out for. Remember that you are modeling for your kiddos - what kind of love and respect do you want them to have for themselves? Model that love and respect for yourself for them if you find it hard to prioritize yourself for you. Your kids are watching. What do you want them to see?

Another question was, “How do I manage anxiety so it doesn’t transfer to my daughter?” You work on it. You’re going to acknowledge that fear is really hard for you to process (remember, anxiety is being stuck in fear). Finding your calm is powerful. Kiddos will know if you’re faking it - energy is so strong because of our mirror neurons. You pretending you’re nervous is not as beneficial as telling your kiddo you’re feeling that way, and then modeling a coping strategy - a mantra, some deep breaths, pausing to read a book, moving your body - whatever it is that you’ve found that works for you. We want kids to learn that it’s okay to feel things like fear because we have a toolbox to help us feel calm. Pretending you don’t have anxiety or just accepting that you have to live with anxiety does not have to be how this goes. Have a plan in place that will help you process that fear when it comes up.

One question that I really relate to was, “How do you end a conversation with another adult when the other adult says, ‘I don’t want to talk about it anymore,’ but you have more to say?” How can everyone’s needs be met in conflict? You and your partner may process emotions differently. Zach and I fall into that category - he goes quiet and just needs time and space to process things, and I’m the complete opposite. I’ve put in years of work to be able to tell him how I’m feeling in a kind way, and then we decide if this is “for now” or “for later.” If he says we can talk about it later, he and I have a deal that I can turn to my people if I need to vent and express in that moment.  These are people who I know will validate how I’m feeling as opposed to getting me even more fired up. If one of us wants to talk about something “big,” then it’s also really helpful to send out a text or email that tells him what that is and find out when would be a good time to talk about it. That gives him time to formulate his thoughts about it and makes the conversation, when the time comes, much more constructive. 

Ultimately, you’ve got to figure out what your triggers and trends are. Build your self-awareness first to figure out what you’re feeling before figuring out what it is that makes you feel calm. What helps you feel calm that doesn’t just numb?  What coping strategies work for you? 

I love you guys so dang much, and I’m proud of you for putting in this work. 


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