Jessica Stebbins, MS, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
Discovery Institute, P.A. Rockledge, FL
Serving Brevard County
I started this blog series on bullying a few weeks ago and in the mean time, I continue to see on the news and read in magazines and online how bullying is becoming a problem with children at younger and younger ages. Instead of having to worry about this problem only once your children hit the tween or teen years, it is becoming a problem parents are facing with children as young as four years old! How can we make sure that our children are not being mean or aggressive at this young of an age? There are many things that we can do in addition to helping children learn to understand feelings.
Once children understand emotions, it is important that they learn to deal with negative emotions effectively. Anger and hurt can be very strong emotions but the feelings themselves are not the problem. The way we express and deal with these emotions can be a problem if we do not handle them appropriately, and it is important that both you and you children are aware of this. I say this because when we teach children about emotions, there is always the risk of children misinterpreting our efforts and believing that negative emotions are bad and may lead to children repressing or holding back these feelings.
Negative emotions may lead to aggressive behaviors in children as they are unable to problem solve how to appropriately handle situations in which their feelings are hurt or they become angry. We are not born knowing what to do when we feel this way and what may feel good to do when we are upset may not be socially acceptable. Skills must be learned in order to handle social situations and negative emotions in order to get a positive outcome for ourselves and for others. You can help your children learn appropriate ways to handle their emotions by talking to them, and being a good role model.
When your child becomes upset and acts in an aggressive manner, it is important to talk to them about their behavior. (Remember- it may be best to wait until your child has calmed down in order to talk to them as they won’t be able to listen to you when they are upset.) It does not have to be complicated, a simple statement such as “it is not okay to hit someone when they take your toy, you can tell them to give it back until it is their turn and if they don’t listen, tell me.” Once you have done this a few times, you can begin to ask your children other ways they could handle a situation whether they handled it appropriately or not. Also, give your children praise or some other form of reinforcement when you notice your child handling a situation in a positive way.
Just as important as talking to your children about dealing with emotions is being a positive role model as social learning (learning by watching others behaviors) may be an even stronger predictor of behavior than talking to them. Make sure you are dealing with your emotions appropriately by not overreacting, yelling, or criticizing when you are angry. If you or someone else loses their patience or reacts negatively in front of your child, be sure to talk to your child about this. Explain that everyone makes mistakes, apologize for your behavior, and discuss other ways to handle the situation.