Humans are emotional creatures, and children particularly, can get overwhelmed easily by their big feelings. As a parent, you might be tempted to quickly shut down these messy outbursts. However, this might take away the opportunity for the little ones to pick up healthy skills for unpacking unpleasant experiences.
In a Facebook Live with Minister of State for Social and Family Development, Sun Xueling, the Deputy Group Head of Engagement & Programmes at the Centre for Fathering and member of the Alliance for Action to Strengthen Marriages, Kevin Goh, shared some of his strategies on how to respond to children facing meltdowns in a constructive way.
It's okay to have feelings
“It’s helpful to let your children know that it’s okay to feel angry or frustrated,” says Kevin. But trying to snuff out these emotional outbursts quickly, children may learn to suppress these feelings, which may surface in other ways, such as violence, later on in life.
Relate, not manage
“Children are not something to be “managed”, says Kevin, who prefers to find ways to relate to them when they are in a negative state of mind. For instance, he will kneel or sit to meet them at eye level when asking about what upset them.
Manage yourself first
Kevin suggests parents to first ask themselves why they are angry or uncomfortable with their child’s big feelings. While many tend to feel ashamed especially when their child is making a ruckus in public, trying to quiet them right away may not be the most helpful thing for them to learn to regulate emotions. By keeping our own adult emotions in check, we can approach the situation with calm and perspective.
Listen before acting
Just because a child is throwing a tantrum does not mean he or she is in the wrong, reminds Kevin. For instance, your child could have fallen down or hurt himself. As such, don’t be quick to wear the disciplinarian hat. A child shouldn’t be punished purely because of a crying fit.
Talk through ways to manage emotions
With children of school-going age, it is possible to have a fruitful discussion about ways to recognise and deal with big feelings. Kevin recalls going over with his youngest child how to manage anger. “First, name your feelings. What made you feel this way? And are there ways to prevent this next time or if I feel this next time, what can I do?” he says. Rather than prescribing a coping method, he encourages his child to derive healthy ways to express and cope with his emotions.