Category Archives: Emotional Intelligence

Building Character

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By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Creative Arts Director

Woodland Hills Church
The past two weeks, we’ve talked about how our picture of God shapes our faith and our identities and how creating family values together and working to integrate those values into daily life is key in creating a unified and loving home.  I’d like to build off those ideas today and look at character.

Character is the mixture of habits, behaviors, and thought-patterns you possess.  These characteristics are grown and shaped by your values and by how you understand and relate to the world around you.  They’re the kind of things people usually use to describe who you are (aside from how you look).  “Oh, she is so thoughtful and kind toward others.”  “He’s the kind of guy who keeps his promises and takes responsibility for his actions.”  “She’s got courage and bravery off the charts!”  We all want to have a character that can be described in positive ways that reflect our faith and our life with Christ.  And we want that for our kids, as well.

So how do you help a child develop that kind of character?  What grows and shapes a child’s character more than anything else?  Learning by example.  A young child begins reacting to and mimicking the behavior she sees almost immediately.  Like a set of building blocks, she takes one piece of information, sets it in her mind, and uses it as a base for another new piece of information.  Which means that what she sees and experiences in relation to others helps her develop an understanding of what is valued and what is not, what can be trusted and what to be wary of.  When she is told hitting her brother is not okay because it hurts her brother whom she and your family love, she learns that others need to be valued and not hurt and that forgiveness can be given when we mess up.  When she is praised for helping to clean up toys, she learns cooperation and lending a hand are valued and encouraged.  Knowing these values are held by people she cares for and trusts, she will likely begin to develop characteristics of helpfulness, care for others, and forgiveness.  Will she do it right every time?  Not a chance.  But with continual love, grace, and gentle discipline, she can also add perseverance and determination to her character.

As children get older, parents and family members still have a great deal of influence in a child’s character (often more than you’d think), but there come two added factors with age: peer relationships and culture.  Interacting with peers from the late elementary years into the teen years gets really tricky – Often, values and identities kids have had since infancy are put to the test, which shakes up character and causes some wonky behavior and thought-patterns.  Though he’s always been told he’s loved and forgiven at home, a child may experience something different from classmates and friends.  In order to gain their attention and acceptance, he may chose to set aside family values such as honesty and obedience and lie to his friends that he can play a certain video game even though the truth is that’s a game his parents have said no to at home.

So what do you do when this happens?  Have they lost their character?  Nope.  The best thing to do: Don’t freak out.  Plain and simple.  Kids will – like you – make mistakes.  They will let something else tell them what is true, who they are, and what they should value, and that will drive them at times to behave in negative ways.  Steer away from just pointing out their mistake and telling them not to do that again.  It doesn’t get at the root issue.  The root issue in this instance is the child wants to get something of his identity and worth from his peers.  That’s what you really want to help him tackle.  Help him in see the truth of who he is in Christ and how lying and disobedience pull him away from the incredible young man God made him to be – a child of God who is full of potential and love and talent.  This will likely have a more lasting effect than simply grounding him for bad behavior.  Through respectful dialogue (not a lecture), he can take part in the conversation, voice his own concerns and frustrations and feelings, and learn how to work out the deeper issues he’s dealing with each day.

Kids want to be heroes – look at the movies and games they watch and play.  They want to be brave, honest, and successful like their “heroes.”  We just need to help them learn that building a character based on Christ and Kingdom values is the best way to get there.

I Don’t Agree with You

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By Paula Bowlby, Associate Early Childhood Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

“I don’t agree with you.” “I feel differently than you do.” “Have you thought of it like this?” Sometimes it is hard to say those words. Other times, it is very easy to say those words. The question I have been asking myself, especially when I am on social media is: how do we model to our children respectful disagreements. Respect is the key word for me.

How do we, individuals who are trying to the best of our ability to be Kingdom Followers, have our own opinions and have healthy discussions about the opinions without tearing the other person down? Do we always have to be right? What is our motivation in the discussion? Most importantly, what are we modeling to our children when we speak, in our actions and in our body language? Little eyes seem to see and hear everything. As a parent, as a volunteer or as a family member, you are being watched. How do you handle the responsibility? How do we model?

I did a little research to see what the experts were saying on this topic. I found some good reminders for myself, what I would like to model. Here is a small portion of what I found:

  • Model – challenge yourself to use a calm and neutral tone. Stick to facts, your feelings or what you have observed; no name calling.
  • Permission- our kids need to know that they don’t always need to agree with others but do need to show the love of Jesus in how they disagree, which, again, means no name calling. Help them see the value of teaching in love while doing nothing out of selfish ambition.
  • Give the words – help your child work out with appropriate words for disagreements. You can even do this with younger children by teaching them to say that made me sad. This helps them identify how they are feeling, teaching them to identify early what is causing an Older kids can be encouraged to use phrases like, “This is what I think,” or “Can I tell you how I feel?” as great starters. You modeling this will help them even more.
  • Be willing to listen – if your child is making a good faith effort to respectfully disagree, listen. Help them build the skill.
  • Don’t fix it – let your child know you heard them with your words but don’t simply step in and take care of things yourself. Help him/her work out the situation using love and respect.
  • Teach and practice – help your kids see that you will not always agree and that is okay. Teach them that those who see the world differently have value and are loved by God.
  • Help your child learn that his/her identity comes from God, not others. This lesson is good for us all but is sometimes very hard to remember.

As we move into 2017, let’s love and model love. Let’s respect and respectfully disagree. Let’s let Jesus shine through us and be different.

Growing Changes

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By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Creative Arts Director

Woodland Hills Church

One of the things I love most about my job is that I get to interact with kids of all ages, from infants all the way to tweens. As I’m working with each age level, I need to keep in mind the differences between these age groups. What a toddler can’t conceptualize might be something a kindergartener can latch onto and really get. What needs to be laid out in very concrete, basic terms to a preschooler can be more abstract and detailed for a preteen.

Below are some of the basics to keep in mind about the various age groups as you engage your children in their faith.

 

Infants (Birth to 18 Months)

Age Characteristics: This is the age of discoveries. Over the course of a child’s first year, his or her brain will triple in size, forming millions of neural connections (something like 700 a second). That means that as a baby experiences the world, he/she is constantly learning and taking in new information. Every taste, smell, sight, sound, touch, and relational experience brings with it new discoveries and knowledge.

Spiritual Characteristics: Although an infant can’t mentally understand the concept of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross or the lyrics to a song of praise, he/she can understand what it is to be cared for and loved, and he/she can experience the delight of joyful or peaceful music. At this stage, the most spiritually significant thing you can do for children is to help them experience unconditional love and pure joy, modeling what their heavenly Father feels for them. Through play and snuggles, music and even dance, you can help an infant know he/she is loved and cared for and that God is good.

 

Toddlers (18 Months to Three Years)

Age Characteristics: We could call this the age of self-discovery. A toddler, having built up months of experiences and learning, begins to separate himself/herself from the world. He/she generally latches onto the idea of possession, which often leads to some issues with sharing, taking toys, claiming things as his/her own, etc. It also means he/she may experiment (to your chagrin) with rebellious behavior and the need to have things his/her way. With this self-awareness also comes the ability to reciprocate relationships. Empathy begins in its earliest stages here where the sight of a sad child across the room can make peers spontaneously burst into tears, as well. They may not know what to do with their emotions yet, but children at this age are definitely aware of them.

Spiritual Characteristics: This age group loves to explore and experience the world as they grow in their ability to understand it and its relation to themselves. Using colorful pictures as you tell a simple Bible story or going for a walk and talking about how God made all that you see can be a great way to engage a child spiritually at this age. Be sure to use very concrete ideas and wording. He/she won’t understand the theological reasons why Jesus came to earth, but he/she can understand that Jesus came because He loves us and wants to help us live His way by making loving choices like sharing with a sibling or giving a friend a hug.

 

Preschoolers (Three to Five Years)

Age Characteristics: The preschool years are the age of seemingly endless energy. These kids are powered by an eagerness and excitement about life. Everything from play and learning to relationships is charged with electricity. This age group loves to jump, dance, sing, run, laugh, and even scream. They have A LOT of questions (some more embarrassing than helpful), and they have a great curiosity about the world outside of themselves. Their emotions are incredibly strong – They LOVE their friend, they HATE broccoli, and they are so MAD they have to go to bed. A child in this age group will want to test out his/her independence and experiment with using imagination in play. He/she begins playing with other children rather than simply alongside them. Although still very concrete in their thinking, this age group is able to piece together basic reason, logic, and cause-and-effect, and they love when their knowledge and abilities are recognized and praised.

Spiritual Characteristics: Preschoolers are at a prime age for recognizing God’s love and reciprocating it. With their brilliant imaginations, they love to hear and create stories in their minds, and Bible stories you read together can become beautiful learning opportunities. With their energetic bodies, encourage them to dance and sing worship songs. And with their simple yet profound ability to believe the impossible, they can believe in a God they can’t see. Encouraging a preschooler to talk about God, ask questions (even if you can’t answer them all), and worship God in a variety of ways (music, dance, art, etc) helps to build a firm faith foundation on which he/she can grow.

 

Early Elementary (Kindergarten-2nd Grade)

Age Characteristics: With the beginning of the school years come a lot of changes for a child. He/she learns what it’s like to socialize apart from parents and on his/her own. He/she, though still very active and energetic, slows down a bit and can sit still for longer amounts of time (even more so as they age). This age group is still very curious with lots of questions and imagination involved. Having grown in their socializing abilities, they are more interested in doing things with groups such as sports or organized activities. They can begin to really articulate their feelings and thoughts and why they might be feeling them. A child in this age group, whether he/she realizes it or not, likes routine. As he/she begins to make more independent decisions on a daily basis, he/she will still need input from parents to help make the best choices.

Spiritual Characteristics: In general, this age group wants to do what is right and good. They’re able to usually know the difference, even if they don’t always choose the wise decision. Talking to your child about why that is – the concepts behind sin and choosing our own way versus God’s way – can begin to happen here, as can the foundational concepts of forgiveness and grace. Where a preschooler can generally understand forgiving someone means you choose not to be mad at them anymore, a first grader can begin to understand we should forgive others because God forgives us when we mess up. This age group also deals with a lot of fear and anxiety due to new things likes school, friend groups, and a broadening understanding of the world. It’s important to bring these conversations about fear and anxiety back to God. Remind the child of God’s role in his/her life, His love, and His promises to be with us no matter what. Reading Biblical stories of God’s love and power are helpful in this.

 

Upper Elementary (3rd – 4th Grade)

Age Characteristics: This could be called the age of logic. Kids of this age group, though still concrete thinkers, are beginning to take abstract concepts and piece things together logically. What they accepted as a preschooler may suddenly come into question as they rethink it. Having watched the “big kids” for a while now, kids at this age often want to be more independent, make their own decisions, and do tasks and activities that are for “big kids.” They may struggle with the idea of being “too little” for something and may need to have a conversation or two around this subject. This age group loves to choose what music they listen to, what clothes they wear, and what games they play. They may also struggle socially as drama around slumber parties, bullying, and a growing self-consciousness emerges. A child in this age group, though wanting independence, still very much relies on parents and other adult figures to know how to perceive himself/herself and in decision-making.

Spiritual Characteristics: With a growing sense of empathy and broadening understanding of the world, kids at this age are beginning to think more globally, which is a great opportunity as a Kingdom parent to talk to your kids about Jesus’ call to spread His love to everyone. Look for ways to help your child serve others and be a light of love in their immediate community as well as the world at large. This age group is able to dig a little deeper into more abstract concepts such as Jesus being God’s Son and how we can make a difference through prayer.

 

Tweens (5th-6th Grade)

Age Characteristics: Here we have the age of perceived independence. These kids feel they’re no longer “little kids” and want more freedom to make their own decisions. They feel ready for bigger tasks and more challenging work. However, this also happens to be the age at which some children begin to experience puberty, and with the shift in hormones and other bodily changes, their decisions may not always be rational or wise. In their desire for independence, they still need a strong parental influence in how to make those decisions. This age group’s social drama is rising to its peak with the preteen and early teen years. Broken friendships, bullying of all kinds, and self-esteem issues rise sharply at this age, which means a tween will likely need time to talk and process things (whether he/she wants to or not) as well as help in figuring out how to deal with these situations.

Spiritual Characteristics: This age group has moved beyond the need for simplistic Bible stories and songs. They’re dealing with real-life drama and struggles, and they need that reflected in their spiritual lives. With all the self-doubt and appraisal that goes on at this age, helping a tween ground himself/herself in the truth of what God says about him/her is crucial. Build with them a firm foundation of God’s love and grace and bring God into the tough conversations. Take time to pray with your tween about it all. Help him/her to see the bigger picture and understand how his/her decisions can impact his/her world for better or for worse.

20/20 Hindsight

We asked Guest Blogger, Michelle Abbott, to share with us some of the insights she has discovered as a parent over the years.  She’s the mother of 2 young adult daughters and is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  We loved her perspective and hope you find it helpful, as well!

Life Mentor 14

By Michelle Abbott, Guest Blogger

When I was a young parent, I loved Jesus, and so I assumed my two daughters would, too. I also assumed that if I was a loving, encouraging, fair, and patient parent, my daughters would obey. It was subconscious, but now looking back, I realize that I believed I could control my daughters and turn out a successful parenting project = a Jesus-loving, productive, respectful, contributing adult. Was my world ever rocked when my oldest daughter became a teen.

As my daughter searched for her identity amongst her peers and pushed back on our values at home, I started to panic. Her sneaking, lies and disobedience were often only brought to light by the Holy Spirit. However, my confrontations with her weren’t Holy Spirit led. I felt like a failure because of her waywardness. I felt powerless to reach her heart and get her to understand that our rules were for her best interest, not just to control her or keep her from fun. So, when I would find out she disobeyed, I would storm up to her room, poke my finger in her face and let her have it. I’m sure I looked like a cartoon character – red-faced, teeth clenched, steam coming out of the ears! I cringe now when I think how my angry face looked to her! I’m sure she didn’t see any love in it!

I began to realize that anger directed at my daughter was really a cover-up for my own feelings of inadequacy and failure. Those painful and vulnerable feelings made me feel small, and I hated it! Instead, I went to anger. Then, at least, I felt strong. My anger wasn’t bringing Godly change but was sabotaging any possible good. The Lord graciously taught me that my angry responses were not helping to reach my daughter’s heart.

1 Peter 4:8

Love covers over a multitude of sins.

Proverbs 15:1

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.

James 1:19-20

Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.

When my daughter broke a rule, I began to realize how much she was hurting herself. The consequences were going to sting, and I didn’t want that for her. I was filled with compassion. Instead of storming up to her room as an angry cartoon character, I showed her a face of love and concern. I expressed sympathy for the hurtful consequences her misdeeds were going to create. My new response to my daughter’s infractions made a huge difference. In the past there had been anger, hurt feelings, walls of silence, feelings of inadequacy, and despair. When I responded to my daughter in anger, she rarely apologized for her misdeed. When I countered with grace and compassion, she later apologized every time.

I wish I could report that my better responses changed my daughter and she stopped acting out in ways that continued to hurt us both, but I can’t. She struggled through her teen years because she so desperately wanted to fit in. My big realization is that I only have power over one person on this planet and that is me. God gave us children to shepherd, not control. We are called to provide for them, keep them safe and lead them well by showing them the Father’s heart. They create their own inner moral compass through the ways they filter information and experiences, not by us somehow finding their control panel and programming them.

All behavior is communication. Do not take your child’s negative behavior personally as a sign of parenting failure. Instead, work to hear your child’s heart through their behavior. If they are doing harmful things to get attention from peers, hear that they are feeling insecure and are wanting to belong. Find compassion and trust the Lord to lead you to their heart.

Getting All Emotional: Part 2

By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Curriculum Specialist

Woodland Hills Church

This past weekend, Disney and Pixar’s newest film, Inside-Out hit movie screens across the country. I went to see it for purely research purposes. Okay, that’s not true. My seeing it had almost nothing to do with research – I just really wanted to see it. And I wasn’t disappointed. Though perhaps a bit complicated for preschoolers to follow, Inside-Out is a fantastic movie for elementary kids as well as teens and adults. In fact, I’d venture to say the folks at Pixar made this film very much with adults in mind (pun intended). Exhibit A: Check out the scene featured in this trailer:

We see the various emotions of Mom, Dad, and Riley all in action. Unfortunately, they’re not all on the same page. Something has caused Riley’s emotions to get worked up, and at dinner, she becomes easily agitated and angry. Mom’s emotions are frustrated with Dad, whose emotions have been focused elsewhere and don’t see the situation as she does. And Dad, well, rather than getting to the heart of what’s really bothering Riley, let’s his emotions escalate alongside Riley’s. By the end of the scene, both Riley and Dad are triggered (see part one of this article from two weeks ago), and Mom is frustrated…again.

Sound familiar? It’s the kind of scene that plays out all too often in our daily lives. Someone says or does something, emotions escalate, and the results are less than pretty. It happens to us all – Parents and kids, married people and singles, men and women, old and young, etc. As a parent, one of the most helpful things you can do when emotions like anger, sadness, and fear pop up with your kids is to try to help them figure out the root cause of their emotion. As I stated in my article two weeks ago, emotions are like lights on our mind’s dashboard – They let us know something has happened and needs to be addressed. There’s something going on behind your child’s emotional outburst, and that’s what really needs to be worked out.

Emotions like anger, fear, and sadness kick into gear when we perceive danger, injustice, or loss. So when your five year old melts down because his brother “got a bigger slice of cake,” it’s not really about the cake. He hasn’t received what he hoped for and expected, which was an equal cut of the cake, and that feels like a loss and an injustice. Because kids’ brains haven’t developed to be able to really weed out yet what is really worth fighting over and what isn’t, they have a hard time not feeling like such an event is the end of their world. To them, the injustice feels real and threatening. Similarly, when your child’s favorite stuffed animal vanishes and she refuses to go to sleep without it, it’s not so much about her inability to sleep without the specific toy as it is she’s feeling fear and loss for something she cares about and worrying she won’t get it back.

So what can you do to help them it work out? Talk with them. Once you get them back to a rational state of mind (again, see my previous article), you can start asking questions. “You were really sad when Molly took your doll. What felt sad about that?” “I know you’re angry at me for saying you need to get ready for soccer instead of playing video games. Can you tell me what about having to switch those activities makes you feel mad?” Throughout the dialogue, you can work your way back to the root issue and remind them that, no matter what, they are loved. They are safe. They are secure. They have what they need. They are not alone. And in the course of the discussion, you’ll also be creating a kind of “vocabulary” your family can use for future situations. “I know you’re upset now, but remember when you didn’t want to share your doll with Molly? You were angry then, too. Do you feel now like you did then?” And, hopefully, with time, such dialogues will become a natural part of your family’s way of speaking, paving the way for healthy discussions versus emotional outbursts and confusion.

Of course, it’s always good to keep in mind that tiredness/lack of sleep, hunger, dehydration, and not enough healthy foods in a kids’ diet can also contribute to and aggravate emotions. If you think your child’s angry meltdown might have something to do with tiredness, try to get him or her to nap or rest with a quiet activity before dialoguing what happened. If it could be hunger, get him or her a healthy snack to munch on while you talk. You might even want to join them in the snack or nap. After all, none of us think straight when on an empty stomach and tired.

For more on Inside-Out and what folks are saying about it as both a family-friendly movie and a tool for families to use in working through emotions, check out these articles:

http://time.com/3928236/what-parents-can-learn-from-inside-out/

http://www.nbcnews.com/science/weird-science/inside-out-movie-reflects-realities-fantasies-neuroscience-n378846

Father’s Day Without Dad

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By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

I can recall exactly how many years it has been since my dad died. Why? I’m glad you asked. A couple years before my son was born, my dad crashed his motorcycle after trying to avoid hitting a dog in the road. It resulted in a broken clavicle and a totaled motorcycle. While in the hospital, the doctors realized my dad had a lump between his esophagus and stomach. He had dealt with issues related to acid reflex and struggled with swallowing certain foods for a while, but no one had ever found a source. While he was glad to find the problem, the solution was not very appealing, either. He had a chunk of his esophagus removed and underwent chemo and radiation therapy. After several long months of recovery, he was cleared of cancer and working again. Fast forward almost a year later, and symptoms returned. Once again, cancer was discovered, but this time it had spread. The treatment was not successful the second time around, and by Christmas, the doctors suggested hospice for him. Meanwhile, my wife and I had begun the adoption process and received a call from a social worker wanting to find a loving home for a new baby. We quickly packed up and traveled to Tennessee to meet our new little one. In the midst of this amazing week, my mom asked us to travel home and be with Dad. I helped set up hospice care for him, and, once he was settled, we introduced him to our son. He expressed his happiness for us with a few words and a desire to have his picture taken with his only grandson. I believe this picture was a way of passing on a little bit of himself to my son. After taking my wife and new baby home, I returned to the home of my parents. A few hours later, I watched my dad take his last breath while surrounded by family and friends. I believe he was just waiting for my return before leaving permanently. But in the midst of suffering and death, there was joy and new life.

Grief affects everyone, yet we don’t all grieve the same way or on the same timetable as others. My young family and new baby distracted me during a time when my siblings and mom were struggling. It wasn’t until 6 months later, Father’s Day, that I realized I didn’t have a dad to honor anymore. As my kids celebrated their dad, I was overwhelmed with the sadness of knowing my dad was gone and they had lost a grandpa.

Father’s Day can be a time of sadness for children and adults alike. Being reminded year after year that your dad is no longer a part of your life is painful, whether he left, remarried, is deployed, or passed away. This pain is expressed in different ways depending on a number of factors, including age.

So, how do we help kids deal with a missing dad on Father’s Day? I wish it was a simple step-by-step system, but it doesn’t work that way. What we can do is be sensitive, compassionate, available to listen, and a voice of encouragement. We can encourage children to express their feelings of loss and help them give voice to all the things they miss about their dad. Tell them stories about their dad and his love for his little ones. Share memories of their experiences together and celebrate all the ways that he was a good dad. If their dad has never been in the picture, then introduce your child to our Heavenly Father. He is a dad that never fails, never stops loving, is always present, always faithful, always trustworthy, and His love is unconditional, sacrificial, and provides life.

Not having a father on Father’s Day hurts. It doesn’t matter if you’ve lost a good dad or never known him – your pain is real and valid. Grief is necessary and healthy. Honoring the memory of your dad when possible and immersing yourself in the love of our Heavenly Father provides a way to transition from grief to peace, from pain to healing, and from focusing on death to honoring life.

Getting All Emotional: Part 1

By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Curriculum Specialist

Woodland Hills Church

I don’t know about you, but I’m a BIG Pixar fan, and I’m super excited for their newest movie coming out June 19.  As usual, it looks to have all the trademark Pixar humor, great animation, and, of course, the perfect tug on the heartstrings.

Pixar’s story follows the adventures of various emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger) belonging to a young girl named Riley. It looks to be a movie families can both enjoy together and use as a great discussion-starter. After all, as I’m sure you know, kids have strong emotions. One minute, they’re happy and laughing with their friends, and the next, well, you’ve got a five-alarm meltdown in progress. Why does that happen, and how do you help your child work back to emotional stability when he or she can hardly breathe between fits of tears?

Emotions are tricky things. They feel very real. A co-worker once likened our emotions to lights on a dashboard – They alert us to changes in our situation, for better or for worse. And, in the case of worse, our brains are wired to trigger. Triggering means the brain’s the fight-or-flight response kicks into gear to shut down the rational side of the brain and begin telling the body what to do. It all happens in less than a second.   Which is great if you’re out hiking when a boulder crashes down a hillside and your flight-or-fight’s quick response saves your life by moving you out of harm’s way. On the other hand, having your brain trigger when you find your child drawing with red marker on the walls is not as helpful. We tend when triggered to say or do things we later regret. It’s the same with kids, but as their brains are not as well developed yet, they have a harder time reigning in that fight-or-flight response.

Even though emotions feel very real, they’re not always in tune with reality. Thus, your child’s desire for that candy bar in the Target check-out line does feel like the end of the world to them. Thankfully, there are ways to help them calm down. One way to help get them on the road to cool down is to validate their emotions when possible. They need to know you are listening and understand what they’re feeling even if you don’t agree. If your child is old enough, ask him or her what he or she is feeling. Try to work out together why those feelings might be coming up. Remind him or her that it’s okay to feel angry or sad or fearful but that acting in hurtful ways toward others or refusing to listen and obey is not okay. Even when your child seems unnecessarily upset (as with the candy bar in the check-out line), you can still let him or her know you understand why he or she would feel that way while still letting making it known the situation isn’t going to change: “I can see that not getting what you want right now makes you feel angry and upset. I feel upset sometimes, too, but we need to make healthy choices, and that candy bar is not a healthy choice right now.” They need someone to recognize they’re not okay and that something in their brain has negatively triggered. They need to feel heard and affirmed that what they feel matters. They may still fuss and be upset, but at least you’ve shown them you’re listening. Hopefully, the validation of their emotions will help them begin to calm down enough that you can guide them beyond the emotion and back to rational thinking.

Because triggering causes a rush of adrenaline and other chemicals in the body that can last for 20 minutes, you may want to provide your child some space to cool down before trying to get rational. A time out or employing a quiet activity to do can give the time and space he or she needs to calm down enough to be able to listen without his or her emotional state getting in the way. You could even try having the child draw out what he or she is feeling and then talk about it.

Here are few excellent resources we’ve read on helping kids walk through their emotions:

  • Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay
  • No: Why Kids – of All Ages – Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It by Dr. David Walsh, PhD
  • Why Do They Act That Way?: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen by Dr. David Walsh, PhD
  • The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson