Positive parenting: dealing with “big feelings”

Sandmom

So I had a challenging day yesterday. D and I went to pick up S from her daycare and she was happy, being her normal self just after waking up from her nap. When we started dressing her to leave, however, something happened and she just snapped. Out of the blue, just like that, she had a major meltdown. Tears, screaming, biting (she bit her shoe!).

Long story short, D stayed in school and I brought home a hysterical toddler that just would not settle down. I was shocked. I had no clue what to do. I stayed with her, trying to hold her but she would literally jump out of my arms. Her pain became my pain, and I began to cry too. After 35 minutes of her intense crying, S accepted my offer for boob. She slowly calmed down, as I held her tightly close to me. She nursed and nursed, while she sighed and I cried. We both fell asleep for about five minutes. We cuddled for a long time. Then she was fine.

Throughout the whole crisis, so many things went through my mind. Is she crazy? Is she sick with anxiety? Is there something wrong with her? S has her temper but I had never seen her like that. She’s had meltdowns when she’s tired, but this was the middle of the afternoon and right after a two hour nap. I had no clues as to what could have triggered her meltdown.

This, until two hours later, when I saw it: S had a huge, red bee sting on her wrist. A stupid bee had stung her, probably as we were getting ready to leave the daycare. That was all!! While I was going mad with speculation, S was in pain, and she kept biting her wrist because it probably hurt like hell, not because she had some weird anxiety disorder like my crazy mom brain was suggesting.

Which brings me to the heart of this post: Big Feelings. Reading about positive parenting, I’ve come across a few articles about Big Feelings. About how toddlerhood is the time when children can feel overwhelmed with new and big emotions because they simply don’t know what they are, or whether they are fleeting or permanent. I did what the articles had suggested, which is to stay close to your child while they sort through the big feelings, even if they are trying to push you away. And I’m happy I had read that, because it did feel right as I did it.

Though yesterday’s crisis was a lot less about S’s big feelings and a lot more about mine —I will have to learn not to follow S’s meltdowns with another meltdown of my own—I still think it’s immensely useful to know how to approach any show of big feelings from our children. Even if that feeling is simply pain from a damn bee sting.

Here are a couple of quotes I like about positive parenting and dealing with big emotions:

  • Children need to be able to “self-soothe” to manage their behavior; and they only learn to self-soothe by being soothed by parents. That’s because the neural pathways that release soothing biochemicals are formed when the baby is soothed by the parent.  Leaving little ones alone with their big emotions does NOT teach them to self-soothe; it undermines their neural development so it’s harder for them to calm themselves throughout their lives. Self-soothing is essential for children to manage their anxiety, emotions and behavior.  Children who are explosive, anxious, or “dramatic” need extra support in the form of parental calming. (Original post here).
  • Children can only manage their behavior when they can manage their emotions, and they learn to manage their emotions by having parents who accept their emotions, even while limiting actions as necessary.  Human emotions need to be felt so they dissipate and leave us; feelings that are repressed pop out uncontrolled and cause “bad” behavior.  But children need to feel safe to experience their big upsets and let them go.  Kids who are uncooperative, angry or fearful are signaling that they need us to “witness” their feelings by letting them cry or rage in our loving presence.  Children who know their feelings are “allowed” don’t store them up, so they’re better able to manage their emotions and behavior. (Original post here).

Positive parenting encourages parents to try “time ins” instead of “time outs.” I don’t think S is quite old enough to experience a time out anyway, but I bring this up because this deals exactly with what I’m talking about: staying with your child while she’s experiencing a big emotion. These two articles explain it really well:

How To Transform Your Time-Outs To Time-Ins

Positive Parenting Tools: Time In vs. Time Out

I hope you find all this info useful. I definitely will try the time ins when the time comes… I know soon enough I’ll be writing about it.

Have a great week everyone. Do share your thoughts here or on the FB page anytime. xoxo

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One thought on “Positive parenting: dealing with “big feelings”

  1. Pingback: Positive parenting: on toddler tantrums, doing chores together, and some more | My little, green family

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