When your big feelings collide with their big feelings

The meeting of big feelings between child and adult plays out in families everyday and it’s where lots of parents and children get stuck. We’re overwhelmed and so are they. How do we get through this collision of feelings? First, let me paint a picture.

Read more

Your big feelings

So your six year old has just pushed away the dinner you made and also declared it ‘disgusting’. Here’s the thing – you know she actually likes this meal and has enjoyed it many other times.

You’re insulted – you’d never ever have said anything like that to your parents. Immediately you feel so very inadequate that your parenting seems to have produced what seems like a spoiled child right now. You hear your parents’ critical voices as if they were right there.

You also feel anxious that you can’t seem to get it right with the food issue. This child used to eat anything and now she changes her mind daily about what she likes. Honestly, you’re also just plain exhausted by the recurring drama of mealtimes. I mean, why bother cooking dinner at all?

Your children’s big feelings

Your six year old has also got her set of big feelings that she brings to the table – literally. She’s tired and so is struggling to stay on an even keel. She’d heard you talking about macaroni and cheese and had set in her mind it was what was for dinner.

Her disappointment is sizeable and has taken her by surprise. Sitting right next to that emotion is an overwhelming feeling that nothing in her life is fair. She never gets what she wants – in fact it feels to her like you’ve deliberately chosen to let her down.

It’s all too much to process and it sits on top of her mood from school that has worn her down as well. She’s trying to work out tricky social dynamics like school friends, her emotional resilience is low and her anxiety is triggered too.

You’re the big person

They’re overwhelmed, we’re overwhelmed. The impulse is often to retaliate and lay down the law. Like nearly every parent, you may have done that before and found it rather ineffective, except that it gave somewhere temporary for your feelings to go.

The truth is, you’re the big person here. If you manage yourself, the outcome can be so very different. That doesn’t mean stuff your feelings down and pretend that they don’t exist. Recognise them and let them be.

Talk to yourself

You can say to yourself that you are exhausted – you worked a big day and life is pushing you along. You feel bewildered at times – you just don’t know what to do as a parent and you feel so mad that you are treated with a lack of respect. The beginning of getting through this is to recognise your feelings and just give them permission to be there.

The conversation you need to have with yourself might sound like this, “Well, Rachel, this is hard for you right now. You feel daunted by these feelings – exhaustion, bewilderment and hurt. Breathe in a bit. No talking back right now. A little glass of water first. This can be worked out.”

Take a minute, and then you can be there for your daughter who can’t manage her own big feelings yet – but is going to be able to with your help.

They need our help

  1. They need us to recognise our own feelings so we can help them with theirs.
  2. They need us to be compassionate towards ourselves so we can be that towards our children.
  3. They need a model of what you do with big feelings.
  4. They need to know they are safe and loved always – even with their big feelings.
  5. They need us to be kind, firm and calm – KFC. Give those qualities priority and decide what is needed.

In this instance, it might look like a gentle word where you meet her where she’s at. “Honey, I know this is hard for you. I know you’re disappointed it’s not macaroni and cheese. Maybe we can just have a cuddle for a minute? I’m here for you.” Followed by a cuddle, and letting her know that the meal that was prepared is the only one on offer. All done without lecture, blame, coercion or reward.

The beauty of this is that you’ve allowed a child to voice their feelings and to feel that someone cares and is not pushing them away. You’ve also held your ground on what needs to remain and have shown your daughter that disappointments can be survived.

Book a session with a Family Coach

family-coachSometimes family life is way more challenging than we had ever imagined. We would like it to be a lot more enjoyable, if only we knew how. Family Coaching is designed to meet you where you are at, whatever stage you are at on your parenting and relationship journey. We want to be on the journey with you. To find out more and to book a session, click here.