Teaching Kids How to Deal with Emotions
“You should get frustrated more often, Mom. Your gardens look a lot better.” This was the accurate and poignant observation my teenage daughter made just the other day as she watched me pulling weeds from my flower beds – with vigor – as I blew off steam from a stressful situation. I had to smile at her ability to associate my emotions with my actions, and it made me reflect on the ways we teach our kids to deal with their emotions, so often simply just by how we deal with our own.
We’ve been dealing with a lot of stress and emotions in our household lately following the death of a close loved one. We’re grieving, family dynamics are changing, and extended family relations are strained. Our children are not immune from the emotions of this situation, and each day we deal with our emotions, our children are watching. They are learning how to communicate, how to deal with frustration, and hopefully, how to recognize their own emotions for what they are – natural, needed, and healthy.
Helping Kids Learn to Deal with Frustration
Dr. Jim Taylor, in an article published in Psychology Today, outlines for parents the significance of emotions like frustration, and gives tips for how to teach children to understand and react to their emotions in healthy ways. Frustration, according to Taylor:
“…arises when the path toward a goal is blocked. Most people think of frustration as a bad emotion, but it is actually more complex than that. The fact is that frustration is hard wired into us and has tremendous adaptive value. Frustration starts as a good emotion because when we get frustrated, we are motivated to remove the obstacle that is blocking our path toward our goals. We try harder and that extra effort frequently results in clearing that path enabling us to continue pursuit of our goals.”
Sometimes it feels like we are just knocking our heads against a brick wall (and sometimes that might be how we might want to deal with our frustration), but our kids are watching. Taylor warns parents to be alert to the risks of not dealing with frustration well – it can trigger what he refers to as a negative emotional chain. This chain is a series of events and emotions that take kids from frustration, to anger, to despair. As their emotions spiral downward, so do their abilities to make safe and healthy decisions.
The Risks of Negative Emotional Chains
Especially for teenagers this can lead to a series of unhealthy choices and reactions, and anger that makes it more difficult to focus on goals. Teens who don’t have the tools to deal with their emotions are more likely to
- Drink alcohol
- Smoke cigarettes
- Abuse drugs
- Have lower academic scores
- Have strained family relations
- Suffer from depression
Helping Your Kids Handle Frustration
Taylor gives some practical tips for helping our kids deal with emotions such as frustration, and to avoid the negative emotional chain.
- Don’t just tell your kids to keep at it. Doing the same thing over and over will likely just get the same results. This is one of the core issues of frustration – the inability to cause change.
- Encourage your kids to step back. Have them get a snack, listen to music, or just relax. (I head to my gardens, my daughter plays the piano, etc.)
- Help your kids find something at which they can succeed while they consider ways to impact the source of frustration. Pride, enthusiasm, and a sense of accomplishment not only feels good, but can give your kids the boost they need to feel they can overcome whatever is negative in their lives.
- Go back and encourage your kids to talk about the source of the frustration and see if they can break down the larger obstacle to their goal into smaller, more manageable pieces.
- Pay attention to how you react to frustration. Our kids watch us and take it all in – whether we want them to some days or not.
My gardens are looking a little better these days. More tended and managed – even though that is not how I might feel about my life all of the time. Even though my daughter was just playfully teasing me about taking out my frustration on the spreading weeds, I really took it to heart. I need to be conscious of how I react to stress, frustration, and all of those uncomfortable emotions. It’s a good thing I like to garden so much – life sometimes gets filled with weeds.