How to Raise Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) refers to “people smarts.” A person with high emotional intelligence understands both himself and others. Not only does the person understand people, but he also knows how to make them feel comfortable – he knows how to bring out the best in others. As a result, the person with high E.Q. experiences more success in relationships and at work. Kids with high E.Q. have better relationships at home and at school, with kids and with adults. Moreover, high E.Q.in children and teens is associated with better academic performance, better physical health, better emotional health and better behavior. In adults, high E.Q. is associated with better performance in every area of life.

What can you do to help foster your child’s emotional intelligence? In this article we will discuss ways one can boost their child’s emotional intelligence.

Adapt an Authoritative, Not an Autocratic Parenting Style
Parenting style has a huge influence on children’s emotional intelligence. When parents can guide their children while still being sensitive to their feelings, children have higher E.Q. Authorative parents are warm, but consistent in setting appropriate limits and boundaries. They will use discipline, but not at the expense of respectful communication and care. Their children will learn how to be sensitive to others and they will also learn how to “talk to themselves” compassionately, modelling after their parents. This gentle self-talk becomes a major aspect of their emotional intelligence, a tool they can use to reduce their stress in a healthy way.

Autocratic parents, on the other hand, don’t care that much about the child’s feelings. Instead, they focus on the rules of the household, what is allowed and what is prohibited, what the child may and may not do. Sensitivity to the child’s inner world is missing. In this case, children fail to experience parental empathy and as a result, fail to learn how to soothe their own upset emotions. They may attempt to relieve their discomfort by becoming aggressive, acting out their feelings. Eventually they may turn to comforts outside of themselves such as addictions (to food, alcohol, drugs, etc.). Acting out and addictive behavior reflects lower E.Q.

The more feeling words used by parents and educators, the more sensitive a child becomes to his inner reality. Most of us tend to use few emotion words in our dealings with children, and when we do, we often use the same few tired ones over and over.  It is important that we move beyond “mad,” “sad,” “glad,” and “scared.”  Shades of feeling are most helpful and can be used when describing our own feelings or the child’s feelings. Words like irritated, annoyed, frustrated, anxious, worried, terrified, alarmed, disappointed, hurt, insulted, embarrassed, uncomfortable, unsure, curious, interested, hopeful, concerned, shocked, elated, excited, enthusiastic, let down, abandoned, deserted, mellow, calm, peaceful, relaxed, bored, withdrawn, furious, enraged, frightened, panicked, and proud can be used DAILY to help provide an emotional education in the home or classroom. These are the regular feelings that children have in facing life, stimulated by everyday experiences, dreams, movies and even novels. Identifying a youngster’s emotional reaction and feeding it back to him, helps him to become aware of his inner processing. This information then forms the core of his emotional intelligence, providing an accurate barometer of his response to his world. From this place of inner certainty, a child is well-equipped to navigate life, knowing what he feels, what he is searching for and when he has attained it. His familiarity with the world of feelings allows him to connect accurately and sensitively with others. This prevents him from hurting other people’s feelings with words and further, permits him to achieve great kindness and sensitivity in his interpersonal transactions.

Here are some practical steps you can take to bring feelings into focus:

  1. Respond to your child. From the time your child is a crying infant to the time she is a young adult, be sure to be responsive. This means that you take her communications seriously. If she cries, try to come (instead of making her cry it out.). If she asks for something, try to answer her promptly. If she talks, you listen and respond appropriately. All of this responsiveness builds emotional intelligence because you are giving your youngster valuable relationship feedback. In the opposite scenario, in which a parent either fails to respond or responds only after a long waiting period, the child learns that people tune each other out. This causes the child to shut down. She assumes that her feelings aren’t that important based on lack of parental responsiveness and from this concludes that people’s feelings aren’t that important – the very OPPOSITE of the conclusions made by emotionally intelligent people. Quick responsiveness gives the message that people’s feelings matter. This is a prerequisite concept for emotional intelligence.
  2. Use a FEELING vocabulary. Pepper your daily conversation with “feeling” words. You can name your own feelings. Let your child know that you feel excited or dismayed or discouraged or resentful or whatever. This gives your child the vital information that everyone – including parents – has feelings and an inner life. Some people do this naturally, of course, but many do not. For instance, when a child is making too much noise, a parent may just say something like, “Can you please quiet down?” However, the Emotional Coach would say something like, “I’m starting to feel overwhelmed with all this noise going on. Can you please quiet down?” Similarly, a regular parent might give positive feedback to a child in this way, “I like the way you waited patiently in line with me at the bank today.” An Emotional Coach, on the other hand, might say something like, “I felt very relaxed with you in the bank today because you were waiting so patiently.” In other words, the Emotional Coach looks for opportunities to describe his or her inner experience. It is this description that helps the child begin to build an emotional vocabularly that will open the doors to Emotional Intelligence.
  3. Name your child’s feelings. Children feel feelings all day long but not all parents comment on them. In fact, many parents are more practical, focusing on solutions to problems. For instance, if a child is upset because there are no more of his favorite cookies left in the jar, the typical parent might say, “I’ll pick up some more for you when I go shopping this week.” While that solves the problem, it doesn’t build emotional intelligence. An Emotional Coach might say, “Oh, that’s so disappointing! You really love those cookies! I’ll pick some up for you when I go shopping this week.” The extra few words acknowledging the child’s inner world (“Oh that’s so disappointing”) make all the difference when it comes to building Emotional Intelligence. Similarly, parents often try to get kids to STOP their feelings or at least SHRINK their feelings by saying things like, “Just calm down – it’s not such a big deal” or “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” of “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” The Emotional Coach, on the other hand, accepts all the child’s feelings, giving the child the name for what is going on inside. “I can see how upset you are,” or “You’re really scared about this,” or “It so important to you,” and so on. By accepting all feelings as they are, the Emotional Coach teaches kids not to be afraid of or overwhelmed by feelings. This is a very important part of becoming emotionally intelligent.
  4. Teach your child how to express emotions appropriately. While all feelings are acceptable, all BEHAVIORS are not. It is not O.K. to hit and scream just because you feel angry. It is not O.K. to cry for an hour at the top of your lungs just because you are disappointed. Parents must teach children – by their example and by their interventions – the appropriate behavioral expression of emotions. For instance, parents can teach children to express their anger in a respectful way by saying things like, “When you are mad at your brother for touching your puzzle, just tell him ‘I don’t want you to touch my puzzle. I’m working hard on it and it bothers me when you move the piece around.’ Don’t slap his hand!” Parents will have to use the normal techniques of positive attention, encouragement and discipline to get the lessons across. It is, of course, essential, that parents are respectful themselves in the way they express their upset, fear and disappointment. See “The Relationship Rule” in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details on how to teach the proper way to express negative emotions.
  5. Let them experience failure and disappointment. It’s understandable that parents want to protect their children from disappointment. But know that rescuing children from pain, to the point that they never get to experience life, will backfire in the long run. Children need to know how to bounce back from adversity — resilience muscles need training too! And children won’t know how it is to rebound from disappointment if they aren’t allowed to experience it to begin with. When your child gets a poor mark on a project, don’t rush to the teacher to get the mark raised; instead, use emotional coaching with your child (that is, NAME her feelings). “This mark is so disappointing! You tried really hard and the teacher didn’t appreciate it. That is frustrating!” By naming feelings, you actually help shrink them down to size. Feeling words act as “containers” for feelings. It’s O.K. for the child to be upset, or even to cry. After awhile, she’ll calm down. And this is the important part – learning that calm follows a storm. Everything in life doesn’t need to be perfect. There is such a thing as recovery. “There will be more projects, more chances to get a good grade.” You want to show the child that you yourself aren’t afraid of negative experiences or emotions. This model that life is “survivable” can really help a child cope when the going gets rough.
  6. Expand their social network. Few parents think of other people as possible teaching instruments in promoting emotional intelligence. But kids can learn more from interesting personalities and other people’s life experiences than they can from a classroom lecture. Having to adapt well to different types of people — quiet, assertive, annoying, fun-loving — can teach a child how to regulate their behavior based on the demands of an interaction. The challenges other people go through can also provide insight on how to manage one’s own trials in life. Learning vicariously through the success and failure of other people is a good way to raise a child’s E.Q. So if you can, go ahead and enroll your child in various clubs or organizations. When they’re a bit older, encourage them to volunteer in community service. Send them on mission trips. Let them talk with grandpa or grandma. Every person has a lesson to impart to a child.

Natural Treatment for Stress Relief

Bach Flower Remedies are one-ounce bottles of specially prepared water (see below for details). Although they are only water, they can affect the way people feel emotionally. In fact, they can help balance emotions so that a person can release stress, upset, hurt, anger, fear, sadness, irritation, jealousy, impatience  and any other distressed emotion. Indeed,  many people report that they have successfully used Bach Flower Remedies to feel calmer, sleep better, worry less, recover faster from upset and heartache, handle parenting stress and work stress better and so on. Many have also reported that they were able to see a reduction in their child’s tantrums, aggressive behaviors, moodiness  or fears because of the use of the remedies.

But the remedies can do even more than help a transitory bad feeling : they can also help correct the tendency to fall into those feelings in the first place. When the remedies are used to treat a chronic emotional issue (like a tendency to be stubborn or a tendency to be explosive), they might actually be assisting in a processes now referred to as  “epigentic healing” – the healing of the gene that leads one to experience chronically negative emotional states. We now know that genes can be turned on and off and this is what appears to be happening when someone takes a long course of Bach Flower Therapy. This means that a child who tends to be very shy can take the remedies over time to reduce the shy tendency altogether. The Bach Flowers do not change personality, however. What they do is enable a person to be their own best self. A very strong-willed, obstinate child will retain his strength of character but instead of just being difficult to live with he will be his best self: a born leader, a confident person, one who can take appropriate action. When the Flower Remedies help a childhood overcome chronic separation anxiety, they leave the child’s personality intact: it is the same youngster without debilitating fear blocking the expression of his true self.

It’s hard to believe that these little remedies can work and it’s best not to even TRY to believe that they will; rather, just try the remedies yourself and observe how you feel while taking them. Or, offer a remedy to your child and observe the child’s behavior over the next days and weeks to see if there is any difference. Bach Flowers sometimes seem to have a dramatically positive effect on both behavior and mood and other times seem to make little difference. (Of course, there is no medical or psychological treatment either that works equally well for every single person who employs it.) In the latter case, it might be that the wrong mix of remedies is being used, but it can also be that a longer period is necessary before change will occur or even that a particular person is not responsive to the remedies at the particular time that they are being offered (i.e. this could change in the future). It can also be that while the Bach Flowers are having some positive effect, a complete treatment  requires other interventions as well including strategies like nutritional support, exercise, psychotherapy and/or medicine.

How are Bach Flowers Prepared and Used?
Dr. Edward Bach, a prominent physician in Britain who died in 1935, was interested in preventative medicine. In his search for something that could boost the immune system to ward off disease or to help the body recover more quickly and thoroughly from illness, he discovered a water-based method of healing that became known as “Bach Flower Therapy.” Modern physicists use principles of quantum physics to explain how water remedies can affect human emotions. Dr. Bach, however, understood the remedies on a purely intuitive level. He felt their effects and he could see what they were able to do to effectively relieve stress and emotional distress.

Bach Flower Remedies are prepared by taking the head of a certain flowering plant and placing it in a clear bowl of pure water. The water is heated in sunlight or on a stove for several hours (depending on which flower is being used) and then the flower is removed. The water is the remedy. It is bottled (and preserved with a bit of grape alcholol) and – in our times – sold in health food stores throughout the world as well as on-line.

Bach Fower Remedies are a form of vibrational medicine, not herbal medicine. They are NOT medicinal. They do not act on the body at all. They don’t interact with other medicines or foods or health conditions or anything. They are the same as water is to the system. However, if someone cannot have even a minute amount of alcohol in their system, they should look for the newer remedies that are made using glycerin instead. In general, however, anyone can safely use Bach Flower Remedies – babies, children, teens and adults, pregnant women and elderly people. Even plants and animals respond well to the Bach Flowers!

How Does One Take Bach Flowers?
If a person is using only one of the 38 remedies, they can take 2 drops from the remedy bottle in a small amount of liquid. They should do so 4 times a day – morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening.

However, most people take anywhere from 2 to 7 remedies that have been mixed together in a “mixing bottle.” To prepare a mixing bottle, one places water in a glass bottle with a glass dropper – generally a  30 ml  (1oz.) amber bottle. (These bottles are sold wherever Bach Flower Remedies are sold and they are called Bach Mixing Bottles.) Then one adds 2 drops from each desired remedy bottle. If a person was using 7 remedies, they would be adding 14 Bach Remedy drops to their mixing bottle. To ensure that bacteria does not grow inside of the mixing bottle, a teaspoon of brandy or apple cider vinegar should be added to the bottle.

This Bach Flower Remedy Mixture is then taken, 4 drops at a time, in hot or cold liquid, with or without food. Ideally, these 4 drops are taken 4 times a day, for a total of 16 drops daily. A person takes them in the morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening.

Adults can put 4 drops of their Bach Flower mixture into coffee, tea, water, juice, soup or any other liquid. Children can take their drops in water, chocolate milk, juice, cereal or any other beverage.

A person takes their mixture until they start forgetting to take it and they no longer need it. (Or, parents give a mixture to a child until the child’s behavior or mood issues have resolved to the point where the parent is now forgetting to give it to the child)  If symptoms return (and they most likely will), the person starts taking the remedy again. In fact a person may end up using the remedy off and on for a year or two (less time in children) before the problematic tendency  disappears completely.

How Does One Know Which Remedies to Use?
Dr. Bach wanted to keep his healing method very simply. A person should be able to read the description of the 38 remedies and decide which ones he needs. Of course, some people feel that they need all 38! However, no more than 7 should be used at a time.

A person could pick up a book on Bach Flower Remedies and decide which flowers they need based on the description of who the remedy is for and what it can do. Also, most health food stores have a pamphlet that explain what the remedies can too. Alternatively, a person can make an appointment with a Bach Flower Practitioner who will be pleased to help them design a remedy for themselves or their child.

Help Your Child Deal with Criticism

Where would the world be without constructive feedback? While criticism may sting, it is necessary to help us grow and improve. If we’re not willing to be criticized, we can go on for a long time thinking we’re doing well, when we’re actually moving in the wrong direction. In short, painful as it may sometimes be, criticism is good for us and our children.

It is important that parents teach their kids how deal with criticism in a healthy and positive way. While all parents want to protect their child’s ego and self-esteem, the reality is that no one can ever really avoid appraisal. When a child wants to join the football team, he’ll have to face the coach’s assessment. When he wants to be a performer, he’ll have to deal with the auditions and the performance reviews. And of course, any child who wants to survive school for twenty or more years is going to need to know how to comfortably handle negative feedback from teachers and peers. On the home front criticism is rampant, coming at a child from all sides (Mom, Dad & siblings). The over-sensitive child will suffer excessively and may become an adult whose over-reaction at work, in marriage and in parenting brings painful consequences.

So how can you help your child deal with criticism? Consider the following tips:

Establish a Culture of Assertive Communication in Your Home
Training a child how to handle negative feedback should begin at home. Make a habit of offering each other constructive criticism — feedback  that is well-intentioned and geared towards building a person up instead of putting him down. When a child handles other people’s opinions on a regular basis, he or she will be more open to criticism from other people. Don’t be afraid to give the child helpful guidance. It’s O.K. to say things like, “Thank you for setting the table Honey. I’d really appreciate it if you could make sure to put the napkins by each plate next time.” Offering negative feedback respectfully helps children learn that criticism is safe and not harmful. When parents criticize harshly, however, children become “allergic” to negative feedback of any kind. This is why we see adults who cannot tolerate any criticism at all from their spouse. They have been scarred by too much and/or too harsh criticism during childhood. Keep criticism in its place within the 80-20 Rule (see Ch. 3, Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe).

One Person’s Point of View Doesn’t Make a Fact
Let your child know that while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, not all opinions should be taken as being valid and true. Each criticism should be taken as a mere suggestion; you can accept it or refuse it. When kids know that they are not obliged to internalize everything that other people say, they will not be beaten down by unsolicited and undeserved negative feedback. Indeed, clarify that they can always respond assertively to an unfair criticism — a critique need not define their person. It is equally important to help children identify abusive forms of communication. When children hear harsh criticism that they recognize as abusive (too loud, too insulting, too long and so on), they can recognize that the fault is with the communicator (the one who is doing the criticizing) rather than with themselves. In this way, they are spared from absorbing the negative judgments of the speaker and internalizing self-hatred and low self-worth.

Help Them Process the Criticism That They Receive
Distilling the good and the areas of improvement in a criticism takes skill — you need to teach it to your child as it is unlikely to develop on its own. So instead of merely agreeing or disagreeing to a critique, help your child learn to analyze: is there merit to this critique? And if so, what were the things that I did right? What are the things that I should not do again? Criticism can be a motivating factor if you and your child know what to do with it.

Showcase People Who Have Successfully Bounced Back from Criticism
Negative feedback may feel like the end of the world. But the reality is, many people have successfully bounced back from the many negative things that people say about them. The key is to analyzing the feedback without taking things personal. If you can separate the message from the feeling the message elicits in you, you can make the most of a criticism. Your local librarian can help you find age-appropriate novesls and biographies for your kids to read that will demonstrate how others have handled criticism. Learning that most great writers, inventors and accomplished business people had to deal with plenty of rejection and negative feedback before they finally hit success, can provide an inspirational model.

Help Your Child Manage Anger

Anger is one of the most destructive emotions; people who have difficulty managing their anger can end up hurting others and themselves. As adults, they can destroy their most important relationships – those with spouses and children. Parents can help their kids have lifelong satisfying relationships by helping them to find healthy ways to deal with anger. In addition, when parents provide their kids with anger management tools, parenting itself becomes easier and more pleasant. On the other hand, when free range is given to angry outbursts, temper tantrums and rage, family life becomes very stressful. Moreover, children who are allowed to vent their rage not only scare their siblings and their parents, but they also frighten themselves. Their out-of-control behavior leaves them feeling emotionally out of control as well. For all these reasons, parents will want to help their kids deal effectively with inevitable provocative and upsetting situations.

The following are some tips on how parents can help children manage their anger:

Anger is Not Always Loud
It’s important that parents know how to recognize anger. Some expressions of anger are obvious and easy to spot. For example, raising one’s voice, banging hands on a table, and kicking the trash can are external and explosive ways of dealing with anger. But there are also more hidden and subtle expressions of the emotion. Passive-aggressiveness, depression and sarcasm can be signs of anger that are more internalized. If parents know how their child expresses his or her anger, then they can shape their interventions appropriately.

Model How to Handle Anger Well
Parents are in the best position to teach kids about anger during discipline. When offering negative feedback, correction or any type of guidance to a child (including giving negative consequences for misbehavior), show that you have control of your anger — even if you are really upset. If children can see that there are assertive (polite yet firm) ways of expressing anger, they will use them themselves. When you find yourself getting angry at a child, model the entire process of calming yourself down. For instance, tell the child, “I am getting frustrated. I need to calm myself down before I say anything more about this. I’m going to the kitchen to get a big glass of water and I’m going to sit down and drink it slowly until I feel better. Then I’m going to start thinking about what I need to do to about your behavior so that this problem doesn’t happen again.”

Take Ownership
Never blame the child for your anger. This teaches the child to blame others (like his siblings, friends and you!). In other words, don’t say things like “You’re making me mad” or “If you do that again, I’m going to get mad.” Instead, just take ownership: “I’m starting to get mad.” Remember, you may be getting mad because you are sleep-deprived, stressed, and hungry. You might feel helpless with this child, not knowing how to gain his cooperation. None of these reasons has to do with the child. All kids misbehave. It’s the parent’s responsibility to learn how to handle misbehavior without anger.

Don’t Accept Excuses
Similarly, don’t excuse your child’s angry behavior. Teach your youngster that “He broke my castle” is not a good reason for hurting a toddler. It’s an opportunity to use words “You’re not allowed to break my castle! I’m not playing with you now.” Even if the child is angry for really good reasons such as the fact that parents are going through a difficult divorce, or the child himself is challenged by illness or whatever – angry behavior cannot be excused or condoned. You understand, of course, that the child is very stressed. However, as a parent you want to teach the child that he still has control over his mouth and body. He can choose his behavior. Choosing to be hurtful or destructive is only one option. A stressed person can choose to remain sensitive to others even though he himself is suffering emotional pain. 

Don’t Accept Abusive Behavior
Anger is a feeling. Behaving hurtfully or destructively is a behavior that is abusive to others or to the environmnent. Slamming doors, yelling, swearing, throwing things, hanging up – all of these aggressive behaviors are abusive to those on the receiving end. Punching holes in walls, smashing furniture, and so on, are also acts of abuse in that they terrorize the household. Use negative consequences for abusive behavior: “You cannot say or do hurtful things like that every again. From now on, when you choose to yell, swear (etc), such & such consequence will occur.” (See Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for a detailed approach to discipline).

Teach Your Child Safe Ways to Release Anger
Parents can help their children deal with anger by teaching them how to use their words effectively. The most powerful tool for this is the parental model. Saying to your child, “I am really upset about this” teaches the child to use those same words when she is feeling upset. In addition, actually teach the child to use such words. “It’s not O.K. to call someone names. Instead, just tell them how you feel. For instance, when you’re mad at me, don’t say ‘you’re the worst mother in the world’ but instead say ‘I’m really really upset about this.'” Equivalent phrases include “I’m not happy about this,” “I’m not happy with you right now,” “I’m really frustrated,” “I resent what you did,” “I’m extremely displeased,” “I am furious,” “I am angry.” Sometimes a child will be so angry that she’ll want to throw something or break something. Such behavior is destructive and cannot be permitted. However, you can teach your child to rip paper into shreds (an exercise that makes a good ‘ripping’ sound and uses a fair amount of physical energy), or let out a silent scream (just open her mouth and imagine screaming at the top of her lungs) or pull and twist a folded towel (which releases excess physical energy). Punching a pillow or punching bag is NOT recommended as this activity actually stimulates more anger rather than releases energy. Another good way to release fury is to sit down with pen and paper and write really fast, pouring out all the wrath in words onto the page. The page should be thrown out afterward. Younger children can be offered a big black ‘mad’ crayon to scribble pictures and feelings onto paper. Teenagers can be encouraged to release angry energy by engaging in intense physical activity like lifting weights, doing push-ups or riding the exercise bike.

Give Examples of Destructive Anger
Your child need not learn through the school of irreparable mistakes. They can learn through the mistakes of other people. When you hear stories in the news of people committing angry crimes, talk about it to your children. Let them know that anger is a dangerous emotion when it is not controlled and expressed in healthy ways. Show them that you value communication and the skill of calming down.

Consider Bach Flowers
Bach flower remedies may help your child feel less angry. The remedy Vine can help reduce an angry nature. The remedy Holly can help children who are easily offended or prone to jealousy. Impatiens can help those with a short fuse. (These remedies can help adults too!) For more information on the Bach Flower Remedies, look online, in books and throughout this site.

Point Out Positive Role Models
Similarly, when you see or learn about people who handled a difficult situation gracefully, be sure to talk about it with your kids. Emphasize that people always have control and can make the choice to maintain their dignity and the dignity of others even in very stressful situations.

Seek Professional Help
If you have tried all of these interventions and your child is still easily anger, aggressive, or verbally abusive, consider making an appointment with a child psychologist. A mental health professional can provide effective treatments to reduce anger.

Helping Kids Deal with Feelings

Parents sometimes get so caught up in the physical demands of childrearing (getting kids ready for school, providing meals, making sure homework is done, taking them to lessons, getting them into bath and bed), that they can easily forget that there is a whole other side of parenting that is equally important and that must be attended to: the child’s inner world – the world of feelings. Helping children identify and manage their emotions is a critical task for any parent. So much of a child’s behavior is driven by emotions; frustrated children may become aggressive, frightened children may refuse to cooperate at bedtime, socially anxious children may isolate themselves, and so forth. Indeed, young children are prone to react emotionally to every situation rather than think about what they ought to do. Kids of every age are prone to experience periods of overwhelm or insecurity, moodiness or anxiety. Parents can play a major role in helping kids to negotiate the world of upsetting emotions.

How can parents help children deal with their feelings? Consider the following:

Be Open about Your Own Emotions
Kids feel free to explore and express their emotions only to the extent that they feel their family is open to it. So teach by example. If you feel sad, then express to the family that you are sad: “The ending to that movie was so sad that it made me cry!” If you are angry, assertively (that is, politely but firmly) express that you are angry: “I am really upset that you didn’t listen to me!” When you are feeling anxious, say so: “I’m worried about Grandpa. He fell twice last week.”  When children see that their parents are comfortable having and speaking about emotions, they will learn that feelings are just a normal part of the human experience. Parents who tell children to “stop crying” or “there’s nothing to be afraid of” accidentally encourage kids to bottle up their emotions.

Welcome Your Child’s Feelings
Differentiate between behaviors and feelings. You won’t be able to accept all of your child’s behaviors, but you can certainly accept all of his feelings. Let’s say that your youngster is mad at his brother for breaking the tower he was building. The anger is understandable and acceptable. However, punching the brother is completely unacceptable. Anger is a feeling – always acceptable. Punching is a behavior – and behaviors may or may not be acceptable. Is your child whining because he doesn’t like the meal you prepared? Whining is a behavior and one that happens to be unacceptable. Not liking dinner (feeling disappointed or frustrated) is a feeling and is acceptable. Your response can welcome the feeling while correcting the behavior. For instance, “I’m sorry you don’t like tonight’s dinner. I know that you’re disappointed and frustrated – you wanted something else. It is not O.K. to whine like that. Just tell me how you feel in words and I’ll try to help you out.” No matter what your child is feeling, accept the feeling without criticism or correction. This is easy to say but really hard to do. Sometimes your child feels things that you might find frightening. For instance, your child might say things like, “No one likes me” or “I’m so ugly” or “I don’t want to finish my degree. It’s just too hard” Your job in all of these cases is to accept the feelings BEFORE you try to educate the child. “No one likes you? That’s a sad feeling!” “You feel ugly? That’s really hard! “You don’t want to finish your degree? You sound very discouraged.” As the child responds, continue naming feelings as long as possible. Don’t jump in to correct the youngster because that will stop him from trying to share feelings with you in the future. When your kids have angry feelings, teach them the right way to express those feelings. How feelings are expressed is a behavior. Yelling, for example is a behavior, as is talking in a normal tone of voice. Teach kids that yelling, name calling, swearing, throwing, kicking and so on are all unacceptable ways to express the feeling of anger. On the other hand, saying “I’m angry” or “I’m really upset” or “I am so frustrated” are all valid ways to verbally express anger. Teach them to name their feeling and ask for what they want. It is normal for both parents and children to feel frustrated. You can certainly name, accept and validate your child’s upset and frustration. You cannot, however, accept his abusive behavior.

Use Pictures to Help Your Child Identify Feelings
When young children have difficulty articulating what they are going through, it’s best to turn to non-verbal aids. One such aid is a set of pictures depicting the different kinds of emotions. Instead of asking children to tell you how they feel, encourage kids to point at the card that illustrates the emotion they are going through. Parents can also use the cards as a prompt when trying to figure out what their child is feeling. Some parents put a “feeling wheel” on the refrigerator where a child can easily see it and use it to describe what he is experiencing.

Make it a Habit to Ask Children How They Feel
Very few parents take the effort to deliberately help their kids to identify what they are feeling at a given point in time. But there are many occasions when a focus on feelings can help increase a child’s emotional intelligence. Occasions when kids are happy, such as when a playmate comes over, can be an opportunity to teach kids about positive emotions. It looked like you guys were having a blast? Was it fun having Steve over?” Occasions that are sad, such as the death of a pet, can be opportunities to instruct about negative emotions. “I can’t believe that Fluffy died! I feel so sad. How about you? How are you doing?” By inviting open discussion of feelings you make it easy for your children to access their own and others emotions and become emotionally intelligent.

Helping Your Child Cope with Traumatic Events

All parents want to protect their children from things that can unsettle or harm them. But sadly, there are many things in life that even the most conscientious of parents can’t control. Our children may witness or experience traumatic events despite our best efforts to shield them. When this happens, they may have difficulty bouncing back. Sleep disturbances, sadness, anger, fear, or other symptoms of trauma may plague a traumatized child long after the traumatic event has ended.

What is a Trauma?
Trauma is a psychological reaction to highly stressful events, particularly those that threaten life or safety. When an experience is considered traumatic, it means that the coping resources of the person witnessing or experiencing it are not enough to deal with the impact of the event, and some degree of psychological shock or breakdown occurs. Events that most people consider traumatic include vehicular accidents, crimes, natural disasters and physical or sexual abuse.  Although parents may think that trauma results only from catastrophic events like war or rape, it can actually occur as a result of more normal and common events. For instance, a child can be traumatized by being chased by a dog, by a harsh reprimand from a teacher, from a threatening bully, or from being laughed at while giving an oral report. What makes an event traumatic differs from person to person, as individual coping abilities must be taken into account. Personality factors, psychological profile and past history all play a role in producing a traumatic reaction. A trauma response often includes symptoms like reliving the event over and over again (obsessing about it; experiencing intrusive thoughts), panic attacks, nightmares, numbing and fog responses, avoiding people, places and things that trigger a memory of the event, depressed and/or angry mood and increased nervousness (startle response).

How can Parents Help Children Cope with Trauma?
Parental support is critical when a child is dealing with trauma. Unlike adults, younger children don’t yet have the ability to understand what they are going through. Not only is the original event traumatic, but their trauma symptoms too, can be traumatic. For instance, physical symptoms like tremors and nightmares, mental symptoms like obsessions and hallucinations, and emotional symptoms like fear and anxiety can be overwhelming for a child to be experiencing.

The first line of business is to help children manage their emotions. Encourage them to talk about their feelings. A traumatized child may talk about the same thing over and over again, and this is okay. The content of the sharing is less important than the process of getting things out. If a child finds difficulty in expressing what he is going through verbally, either because of age or because of the trauma, then consider non-verbal ways of venting emotions. Letting it all out can also be done using drawings and pictures, clay sculptures and toys, play-acting, and story-telling.

Second, give your child a rational explanation of the traumatic event, that is appropriate to his or her age. The more information the child has, the less he or she is likely to generalize the event to other situations. For instance, knowing that a car crashed because it skidded on the snow can help a child feel safe in cars with good snow tires and in cars driving on dry roads. Without this information, the child may conclude that all cars are dangerous at all times. (While this is in fact true, the healthy state of mind is one of sufficient denial that a person can comfortably drive and be driven at all times. Phobic and traumatized people, on the other hand, over-exaggerate the likelihood of a catastrophic event occuring again, such that they can’t live in a normal way.)

When a child is suffering rather mild symptoms, parents may find that self-help interventions are sufficient. For instance, learning how to do EFT (emotional freedom technique) with the child may complete calm the youngster’s nervous system. However, parents may prefer to take their child to a child psychologist who practices EFT or EMDR. Both of these techniques are used to rapidly heal the trauma of one-time events. If the child is experiencing many symptoms of trauma, it is essential that parents DO NOT try the self-help approach. Instead, they should take their child to a mental health professional who is specifically trained in the treatment of post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD). PTSD is the name for the cluster of symptoms that occur in reaction to a traumatic event. The “p” in this label for “post traumatic” points to the fact that trauma symptoms can suddenly occur months, years or even decades after the original traumatic event(s). The mind/body seems to wait for the “right time” to release the memory of the event(s).

Technqiues like EFT and EMDR can also be used as part of a longer therapy addressing more chronic forms of trauma (such as being subjected to chronic bullying, physical abuse or incest). These and other interventions are specifically designed to heal both the memories and the bodily reactions and return the child to his normal state. In addition, the Bach Flower Remedy called “Rescue Remedy” can help reduce temporary and chronic symptoms of trauma and is especially effective for home-management of symptoms inbetween psychotherapy sessions.

The good news is that children respond well to treatment of trauma. They can experience a complete healing of their symptoms and a return to “normalcy.” In fact, children are often even happier, calmer and more mature after trauma therapy than they were before the traumatic event(s) occurred.

Unsettled After Death, Divorce or Other Trauma

Although most of us wish that children could be sheltered from the pain in life, the reality is that many youngsters endure real trauma during their developmental years. One of the more common forms of modern trauma is the breakup of the family. Divorce is certainly hard for the adults who go through it but it can actually be traumatic for children – because of the loss of contact with a beloved parent, because of conflict that accompanies it, or because of life changes such as moving away from friends and family, acquiring a “step family” and so on. Death of a parent is another, usually traumatizing, experience that many children endure. But many children endure all kinds of other traumas that are less spoken about such as the serious illness and/or death of a sibling, family violence or chronic, intense conflict, addictions or mental illness within the family and much, much more. Children react to these kinds of intense stresses differently from adults. In fact, parents may not even realize that the child is suffering, since one of the common ways that kids handle overwhelming stress is to “act normal!”

If there has been intense stress in your child’s life, consider the following tips:

No Reaction is a Reaction
Suppose your friend was a passenger in a car that experienced a serious collision. The driver and two other passengers were instantly killed. The car was demolished, blood was everywhere, four firetrucks, 3 ambulances and 5 police vehicles were on the scene within minutes. Your friend miraculously escaped unharmed. Over the next days, weeks and months, this friend went about his or her business as if nothing at all had happened. He or she ate well, continued to joke around and enjoy life, never spoke about the accident and just went on very much “as normal.” Wouldn’t you find that a bit strange?

This is exactly the way many children respond to traumatic events in their lives. Instead of registering the pain and acting it out, they appear on the outside to be completely fine. What has probably happened, however, is that the overwhelming pain has been dissociated – cut off from the child’s conscious awareness. It is stored somewhere where the child can’t feel it just yet. It may surface years or even decades later, as more life stress builds up and eventually triggers it. Sometimes, it remains mentally dissociated for a lifetime, but expresses itself through the body in various forms of physical disease. The reason that children dissociate in this way is that they don’t have the emotional or intellectual resources to assimilate the experience. In other words, they just can’t handle it at the time it is happening.

If it appears that your child is not affected by a traumatic event, in reality he is quite likely affected! However, you can help. First of all, make sure that YOU are talking about the events. Some parents think, “why rock the boat? If my kid isn’t bothered by the tragedy, I’m sure not going to mention it!” Or, parents think to themselves, “the child is too young to understand or care about what is happening. There is no need to discuss it with him or her.” This is exactly the opposite of a helpful response. The child is likely to assume that the incident or events CANNOT be spoken about because they are way too terrible. On the other hand, when parents talk about what is happening and name their own feelings about it, they help children to take in the experience as a legitimate part of life and they help the child learn that his or her feelings about it are normal, expected, healthy and welcome. For instance, suppose a family suffers a crib death of their new baby. The mother can approach their children aged 4 and 6 and say something like, “It is so sad for all of us that our baby died. Daddy and I are so sad right now. You might be feeling that way too. We’re also confused. It’s hard to understand how this happened so suddenly; the baby was healthy just yesterday! You must also be feeling confused. We will all be thinking about this for quite awhile. Eventually, the pain will go away and we’ll all be happy again.” Parents can include any spiritual beliefs that they hold and want to provide their kids with at times of tremendous stress and upheaval.

Physical Reactions
While children may not be able to express their shock and pain in words, they may be able to feel it in their bodies. Headaches, tummy aches, colds and flu’s can all increase as an aftermath of intense stress. Play therapy can help children who are “somatizing” (sending emotions through their physical bodies) and talking therapies can help older kids and teens in the same way. Once emotions are acknowledged, physical complaints often subside.

Sleep Issues May be a Reaction
A child may have trouble sleeping through the night or sleeping alone in his or her bed. Or, the child may have trouble falling asleep or may suffer from nightmares. This may be part of a larger syndrome of Acute Stress Disorder (that happens as a trauma is occurring or within the month following) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (that happens more than a month after traumatic events have ended) or Chronic Stress Disorder (the effects of ongoing stress such as living with family violence or addiction or other deeply disturbing issues).

Psychotherapy will help the child clear out the feelings of stress. This will allow him or her to have restful, normal sleep.

Anxiety and Mood Issues may be a Reaction
A child or teen may experience panic attacks, separation anxiety (always wanting to be in the presence of loved ones), increased irritability or chronic sadness. Again, when parents are able to talk about what is happening in the family, children experience fewer emotional symptoms. Sometimes, however, the child or teen may benefit most from personal counseling in order to process the events and lift the burden of stress from the mind oand body.

Misbehavior or “Acting Out” may be a Reaction
Sometimes children become rebellious, disrespectful, impulsive or otherwise poorly behaved at home and/or school in response to stress that is happening at home. Particularly if the poor behavior is a change from previous functioning, parents should consider the possibility of this being a reaction to stress. Counseling for the parents may help reduce the stress in the home and the child’s behavior may simply improve by itself as a consequence. However, some of the stress that may trigger poor behavior are not remediable by parent counseling (for instance, the death of a family member). Nonetheless, parents may benefit from counseling that can address specific behavior and emotional interventions that THEY can provide for their child at home. If these are insufficient, the child him or herself, may need some sort of counseling or behavior therapy.

When Your Child is Rude or Disrespectful

There is a saying: “sticks and stone can break your bones but names will never hurt you.” How wrong that is! Verbal abuse can truly hurt – not only in the short term but also for extended periods of time, sometimes even a lifetime! Inappropriate verbal behavior in the form of verbal abuse is common in family members: sarcasm, name-calling, insulting, yelling, swearing and many other forms of hurtful and diminishing communications. Children and teens sometimes learn this kind of behavior from their parents, but just as often they pick it up in the schoolyard or on the block. They can also learn it online and through social media. Even television, movies and songs can teach kids how to use language inappropriately.

In order to help children stop engaging inappropriate verbal behavior, consider the following tips:

The Parental Model is Important
Children and teens will learn that people of all ages communicate very poorly at times. Their friends, neighbors and relatives will provide live demonstrations of inappropriate verbal behavior. Parents are always the most powerful teachers, however, so it is crucial that YOU model appropriate verbal behavior for your child. Even when you are frustrated, tired, irritable, sick, stressed or enraged, always speak in a respectful manner. If you give in to shouting and cursing, chances are very high that your kids will learn to express strong emotion that way too.

Appropriate verbal behavior is more than controlled anger. It is also behavior that shows the correct respect to others in all circumstances. For instance, children need to show an extra level of respect toward parents, grandparents, teachers and elders. Again, your own model of appropriate verbal behavior to this class of people will be important. Be aware of how you sound on the phone when talking to your parents, and watch yourself when you are speaking to them in person – no matter how frustrated you may feel at a given moment. Your child is listening and learning.

Your Home is a Training Ground
Don’t allow your child to practice verbal abuse. The more your child whines, yells, snarls or otherwise communicates inappropriately, the more likely it is that he or she will continue in that way throughout life. The more someone does something, the easier it is to do again. This is due to practice and the fact that more neural pathways are produced for repeitive behaviors. People don’t just wake up one day when they’re 30 years old and start yelling and swearing; this is something that they’ve learned in their formative years. Therefore, help your child to STOP inappropriate verbal behavior as soon as you see it. Use the full gamut of parenting techniques to encourage appropriate verbal behavior and discourage inappropriate verbal behavior (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for a complete program). Whether your child is rude to you or to a babysitter, relative or sibling – get to work on it right away and nip it in the bud! If it has already been going on for a decade, you can still address it starting today. You need a zero tolerance policy for inappropriate verbal behavior. Any behavior that others would consider obnoxious or any behavior that would harm your child’s relationships should be targeted. This can include not only direct verbal abuse as described above, but also mumbling, repeating oneself, talking on and on and on without regard to the listener’s attention span, speaking too loudly and speaking too quietly.  All inappropriate verbal behaviors can cause your child pain in his or her own social world, therefore it is important not to ignore them and just hope that they will clear up by themselves. Do what you can do to help your child and when you’ve exhausted your own ideas, call upon professional help.

Keep the Bigger Picture in Mind
Inappropriate verbal behaviors may reflect emotional issues that require attention. A child who expresses anger through inappropriate verbal behavior may need to learn better communication techniques but he or she may also need help to address the underlying anger itself. A child who mumbles or speaks too quietly may need to learn how to express him or herself in more attractive and age-appropriate ways, but he or she may also need help in addressing social anxiety or insecurity. In other words, both the behavior and the emotions often need to be addressed. Professional help can often help in the deepest, most thorough and quickest way, so ask your doctor for a referral if you have any concerns whatsoever about your child’s feelings.

Temper Tantrums in Public

When a child doesn’t get his way, generic he or she might throw a temper tantrum – a “fit” in which the youngster expresses rage both verbally and physically. While having a tantrum, a child might throw himself on the ground, kick and flail, cry, scream and shout verbal abuse or other types of hysterical rants. The tantrum can be a reaction to not getting a candy, a toy, or another object of desire. In fact, it can occur for any type of frustration. Sometimes, a child may throw a temper tantrum in public, which can be especially embarrassing and aggravating for parents to experience.

Public temper tantrums are normal for toddlers and pre-schoolers and also occasionally happen with school age kids. For pre-teens and teens though, this behavior is rare and is reason for concern and specialized intervention. No matter what age your child is, however, temper tantrums must always be addressed.

If your child has public temper tantrums, consider the following tips:

Stay Calm and Respectful
When your child throws a temper tantrum in public, you may be angered by the embarrassment he is causing you and you may be tempted to react the way you’re feeling. However, it is important to stay calm and not display any anger in this scenario. First of all, you are also in public at the same time as your child. No one wants to watch an angry parent make a scene, even if they understand your particular predicament. In addition to this, you are a role model for your child. If you react angrily to something you don’t like, you are showing him that anger is an acceptable reaction, which is exactly what you don’t want to show him here. Instead, speak slowly and calmly to him, despite your frustration and demonstrate the proper way one should react to frustration.

Use Emotional Coaching
When your child has a tantrum, you can briefly name his feelings. “I know you’re upset.” “I know you’re not happy about this.” There is no need to go beyond the simple naming of his feelings at this time when he is in an intense state of distress. Tantrums are not “teaching moments.” It is useless to try to get the child to understand anything while he is having a meltdown.

Don’t Reinforce Tantrum Behavior
When your child is having a tantrum, do not give him lots of attention or try to console him through hugs and the like. Do NOT give the child the thing he desires that is the subject of his tantrum (i.e. if he wanted you to buy him a toy and then threw a tantrum when you said no, don’t buy him the toy to stop his tantrum). If you give into his tantrum, you will only be encouraging this type of behavior in the future. He must learn that tantrums are not the way to get what he wants.

Teach Alternative Methods of Responding to Frustration
After the tantrum is over and your child is calm, teach him how to properly respond to frustration with the use of words instead of tantrums. Use the CLeaR method to reinforce his efforts. For instance, teach the child to say something like, “I’m not happy about this” on occasions that he is disturbed by your response to him. Then, if he asks you for a treat and you tell him that it is too close to dinner time and he remembers to say, “I’m not happy about this,” you can use the Comment, Label, Reward (CleaR Method) strategy to reinforce his appropriate behavior. You could say, for example, “You remembered to tell me your feelings in words! (Comment).”  “That’s very mature of you! (Label)” “Since you spoke so nicely even though you were frustrated, I’m going to change my mind and give you that treat after all (Reward).” See more about the CLeaR Method in Raise Your Child without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe.

Use Discipline
For children older than four, use the 2X-Rule (see Raise Your Child without Raising Your Voice) to discourage tantrums. Think of a negative consequence that will always follow a tantrum and tell the child that you will use it from now on, whenever he has a tantrum instead of using his words. In this way, the child’s brain will make the connection between his tantrum and something unpleasant happening afterwards. The next time he thinks of throwing a tantrum, he’ll think again!

For older kids and teens, attempt to explain how you feel when he throws a public tantrum and point out that there are far more appropriate ways to convey and handle distress and frustration. You may also try discipline (i.e. revoking certain valued privileges whenever he throws a public tantrum).

Consider Bach Flower Remedies
If your child is prone to frequent tantrums, consider the Bach Flower remedies Vine (for children who MUST have their own way – or else!), Cherry Plum (for those who lose control) and/or Impatiens (for those who quickly disintegrate when frustrated). Or, consult a Bach Flower Practitioner for assessment and recommendations. You can find more information about the Bach Flower Remedies online and throughout this site.

Consider Professional Help
When children – especially older children and teens – continue to have tantrums despite your interventions, they may benefit from professional counseling or even anger-management training. Ask your pediatrician for an appropriate referral

Child is Aggressive

Parents are often perplexed by their aggressive child. They may not know why the child behaves as he does and they may also not know how to help change that behavior.

If your child is aggressive  – on occasion, sometimes or frequently – consider the following tips:

There are “Aggressive” Genes
Those children who are frequently aggressive may have inherited “aggressive” genes – or at least, the kind of genes that trigger aggressive responses. For instance, some kids have impulsivity – an inherited trait that leads to acting quickly and without considering the consequences of the action. Impulsive kids may grab toys from others, hit or push others who bother them, destroy property in anger and so on. They do it all without thinking of what’s going to happen next. Another inherited tendency is a strong-willed nature. Some kids are easy-going – they’re flexible and difficult to ruffle. But the strong-willed bunch may need things to go their way – or else. This stubborn nature can lead youngsters to feel threatened when things don’t happen the way they want them to and this sense of threat is associated with the fight-or-flight reaction in the body and the “fight” part of the chemical reaction often leads to aggressive behaviors. For instance, a child may want a book that his brother is holding in his hands. He asks for it repeatedly and the brother won’t give it. Because this one has a hard time backing down, giving up, walking away and finding something else to do – because he HAS to have what he WANTS – the fight-or-flight chemistry gets released and he lunges at his brother, shoving him down and grabbing the book that he wants. A “hot temper” is also an inherited trait. Some kids have virtually no temper while others are quickly and/or intensely triggered. The latter bunch may have trouble controlling those feelings and often end up behaving in more aggressive ways.

Adults who are aggressive have responded well to certain psychotropic medications like SSRI’s. This class of medicine not only relieves depression and anxiety, but it also seems to help tame the aggressive tendency.  A truly aggressive child – one who is being expelled from school after school because of an inability to control himself – should be evaluated for medical treatment. However, kids who are able to function well can also benefit from help for inherited aggressive tendencies. In this latter case, many kids will respond very well to the harmless naturopathic preparation called Bach Flower Remedies. In this group of 38 water-based remedies, quite a few are appropriate for taming aggression including Vine (for violent aggression, strong will), Impatiens (for high strung aggressive behavior), Holly (for aggression that occurs due to feeling insulted or mistreated) and Cherry Plum (for aggression that involves complete loss of control). Consult a Bach Flower Practitioner to prepare an individually tailored mixture of remedies for your youngster or read more about the remedies and make them yourself. Your child’s aggression will likely wane over time, as he or she takes the remedies. The remedies never subdue a person or change their character – they leave all the strong points in place! They simply help clear out troubled feelings.

Monkey See Monkey Do
Children who witness or experience aggression are much more likely to copy it. If you are currently using anger as a parenting tool, you need to be aware that it definitely increases aggressive behavior in kids. Read “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” in order to learn a variety of alternative non-angry strategies for getting kids to listen. It’s important that you don’t yell, physically punish or otherwise demonstrate aggressive behaviors. Moreover, your behavior toward your parenting partner (spouse, ex-spouse, etc.) needs to be completely unaggressive as well. Even road rage should be avoided! Children won’t copy you exactly – they’ll copy the general style. If you use aggression in your life, chances are very good that your kids will too.

Treat Aggressive Behavior Non-Aggressively
You need to help your child stop his aggressive behavior. When he is out of control, make sure you are very much IN control. Keep your voice quiet. Speak slowly. Don’t say much. Let the child know that there will be a consequence for his behavior, using the structure of the 2X-Rule outlined in “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice.”  Do not ignore aggressive behavior. Everyone in your house is entitled to live in a safe, respectful environment, including yourself and your other children. Make this clear to the aggressive child. Aggression must always be disciplined in the home – just as it is disciplined in the society at large. No one is allowed to destroy property or hurt others without facing legal consequences. Similarly, there needs to be a system in place in the home where unacceptable behavior is consequenced. “The Relationship Rule” (see “Raise Your Kids..”) teaches children how to express their upset in respectful ways. Follow the five steps of teaching this rule to your whole family.  Look for signs of progress – less aggression,  better communication and self-control.

If normal, calm discipline and careful positive reinforcement for desirable, non-violent behavior, does not stop your child’s aggressive behavior, seek professional guidance. A mental health practitioner, family counselor or parent educator can offer you a variety of tools to encourage non-aggressive behavior and discourage aggressive behavior in your child. If you employ these strategies without success, take your child to a mental health practitioner for assessment and treatment