“I’m not angry mama. I’m frustrated. And cross. This isn’t working and I need another option.”

My three year old looked at me indignantly.

I’m a big fan of emotion coaching children, and this is exhibit A for why.

Childhood and adolescence are difficult times. As adults I think it’s easy for us to look back on that ‘carefree’ time of virtually zero responsibility and feel like we’re the ones doing the hard yards.

But our little ones are working hard, too.

And giving them to tools to navigate these difficulties that support their emotional intelligence can make a big difference.

One of the most frustrating parts of humans is how ‘undeveloped’ we are at birth. Our children’s bodies are growing at enormous rate. Their brains are learning and connecting and forming. And all of this work can sometimes be too much, and this is especially true for regulating emotions. Our children cannot do it, at least, not consistently, and not to our standards. This is why they have parents and caregivers – to first organise their feelings so that as they get older they can organise those feelings themselves.

Yet, for some reason, we expect them to fly blind and still execute this better than even we ourselves can manage.

For a lot of us, we do this because it was done to us, and it was done to us because it was done to our parents. But this isn’t about blame. It’s about learnt behaviour. We can change this cycle, and there’s one awesome tool we can learn to do it – emotion coaching our kids.

"Mama. Help me."

When we give names to our children’s emotions and allow them freedom of expression of those emotions with appropriate boundaries, we give them a sense of agency. It allows them to learn to work with their feelings and be their own master, rather than their feelings being the master of them.

I know from my own experience, the benefits are enormous, especially parenting a child who struggles with sensory regulation. When she is overwhelmed with stimulus (which can happen incredibly quickly), if she knows the words to explain her experience, she can communicate in ways she otherwise wouldn’t have.

It also allows us to connect, or reconnect. It helps dissipate meltdowns. It can prevent meltdowns. It helps us to bounce back when things get messy.

And I think one of the most important things to remember is that all behaviour is a message from our kids to us. Outbursts are not personal, they’re a message. Tantrums, aggression, defiance – it’s not personal, they’re trying to tell us something. If we can tease ‘us’ away from ‘them’ we can start to get to the bottom of why, and help them to regulate.

If we can support them through the process of these outbursts, we all win.

So how do we do it?

Well, it’s not hard and fast, but here’s what I’ve found really helpful.

  1. Ground yourself.
  2. Become aware of your child’s feelings
  3. Remember that the behaviour your child is using is an attempt to communicate.
  4. Set the limit firmly but gently.
  5. Listen with compassion and empathy, and provide space for their feelings to be messy.
  6. Offer names for their feelings. Let them agree or disagree, and come up with their own.
  7. Offer a solution.
  8. Remind them of the limit.
  9. Remember that each of these interactions is an opportunity to connect.

Do I manage this perfectly all the time? No, of course not. There are some days when I fall in a heap. And that’s ok too, because we don’t have to be perfect, we just have to be good enough. Mistakes and bad days are part of the process too, teaching kids that falling down and getting back up are just part of the glorious walk of humanity.

Sure, it’s not easy. And especially when for so many of us this is a completely new concept. 

But the good news is that the more we practice, the better our brains become at turning to this first.

Don’t forget to be gentle with yourself. If you find old memories surface or big emotions rising in yourself, stay present, reach out to your network, seek help if you need it, and remember we’re all in this together. You are enough.

Anna xx

Anna is a Childbirth Educator, Doula and Motherhood Mentor, working in the Adelaide metro area and country South Australia.

For more information about her workshopsbirth coaching, birth support, and post baby support services, or if you would like to find out more about overcoming motherhood overwhelm, please visit www.annasiebert.com.au.

© Anna Siebert and Anna Siebert Blog, 2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Anna Siebert and Anna Siebert Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About the author

Anna is a Motherhood Mentor, who works with busy mums to beat overwhelm, stop yelling and enjoy parenting. As a Childbirth Educator, Anna helps parents prepare for their birth to overcome fear, feel confident and come out the other side of birth positive and empowered. She is the founder of Calm in the Chaos, where mums learn how to feel calm, joyful and confident in modern parenting, and Preparing for Birth, where parents learn how to have a positive birth regardless of how their birth unfolds. Her mission is to take the fear out of birth and the overwhelm out of parenting. Anna runs live workshops, online courses and trainings, and is the author of Preparing for Birth.