Emotions are….well, hard for kids most of the time: hard to feel, hard to manage, hard to identify, hard to understand. When you tell your children, “we’re moving!!” a wide range of emotions begin to swirl inside. All of these emotions very likely get expressed as some form of anger….even the “good” ones. A move to a new home is exciting and challenging all at the same time. As adults, we have most likely had enough life experiences – good and bad – to know there is light at the end of the tunnel and we will come out on the other side. Our kids don’t always feel so confident about the “coming out on the other side” part.
The first step in helping our kids manage their emotions is to help them name them. Younger kids can name three basic emotions – happy, sad, and mad – but they feel everything from euphoria to frustration which ultimately causes them to lump everything together into their top three. When you can name an emotion beyond happy, sad, mad, you begin to disengage the emotion-based thinking and you begin to engage your problem solving thinking. In past posts I’ve talked about the use of “I messages” to facilitate effective communication (see Taking the Guessing Out of Moving and Personal Protective Gear).
The starting point in an “I message” is to identify how you feel. Then you can tie that emotion to the “why” and “when” you feel that emotion in addition to what you want to happen. Naming the emotion is the starting point to managing it as well. This is where your best detective skills come in handy. Chances are if you ask your kids how they’re doing or what they’re feeling they’ll say either “fine” or “I don’t know.” That’s how you know your kids are normal!! Digging a little deeper by making a “It seems like you are…” or “It looks like you are…” opens the conversation a bit more. Once you can help your child name their emotion (and what might be underneath it) you can begin to help them identify triggers and coping skills to manage their emotions more effectively.
Remember to factor in that you and your children are working against normal development. The prefrontal cortex – that part of the brain that governs impulse control and executive function (higher order thinking) – is not fully developed around 25 years of age. It doesn’t mean your children are incapable of impulse control or higher order thinking. It does mean they will access that information more slowly and their progress will be more of the “one step forward, two steps back” variety.
Learning to more effectively manage and take responsibility for our emotions is a step toward developing greater resilience. Resilient kids, and resilient adults for that matter, have good problem solving skills and they take responsibility for their actions both good and bad. For more information on emotion management, look here.
For more information about the Moving Families Initative, please visit www.movingfamiliesinitiative.com.