As a counselor who works with children and teens, I frequently see clients who struggle with expressing themselves. Some children become frustrated and angry more easily than others and their parents have no idea what to do with them. I see teens who have trouble being vulnerable with others and have requested counseling to get some support. Parents often describe their teens as “closed off” or “they keep to themselves”—and yes, most teens do this at some point or another. We all remember that phase! But many parents question what they can do for their kids and how they can help them, whether they have young ones or older teens who are giving them a tough time. Well parents, this blog post is for you!
SIDE NOTE: I know being a parent can feel SUPER overwhelming for, well, the majority of your child’s life. I recently watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy where Dr. Miranda Bailey describes the life cycle of the Black Lace-Weaver Spider after another doctor asked her for parenting advice. She goes on to talk about how the mother spider lays hundreds of eggs, and when the time comes, she calls her newly-hatched babies to her, and they begin to literally eat her alive to nourish themselves. Or, as Dr. Bailey puts it, they “suck her up like a milkshake”, and she tells the other doctor that this is what parenting is like. OK, so that might be a bit dramatic—she must have been having a rough day. But you have to admit that some days actually feel like that as parents! You feel like sometimes there is nothing left to give—and yet, I’m about to give you another piece of advice. BUT, I’m hoping to make life a little easier in the long run.
Your kids learn everything from you—they are total sponges. But one of the things that we often forget is that they don’t just learn their regular vocabulary from us, but they learn emotional vocabulary from us too. Emotional intelligence is something that I constantly scan for when working with children and teens. Do they have the vocabulary to describe what they are feeling? Do they know how to verbally express it? Do they know what to do with it? And many struggle with the expression part!
Take a moment to think back to when you were a child. Were your parents warm and fuzzy, a bit cold towards you, or both? Did your family talk about feelings, or ignore their presence? Were you encouraged to share how you felt? Did your parents tell you their feelings? Whichever way your parents handled emotions is likely a big indicator of how you act now as a parent. Sometimes we end up learning early on that maybe we don’t want to act a certain way towards our children, or sometimes it takes time to realize that we are maybe repeating old patterns.
So here’s the kicker. Regardless of how emotions were handled in your homes growing up, it takes work to make sure that your children learn emotional intelligence. A piece of advice that I tend to give parents of the kids/teens that I work with is to model expression of emotions for your children. Let them see how you label your emotions, express them, and cope with them.
For example, let’s say you’re at the grocery store with your kids and it’s been one of those days. You’re standing in line and there aren’t enough cashiers and you feel yourself on the brink of losing it. This is a great opportunity to express emotion to your child. “You know, I’m not having a very good day and I just don’t feel like waiting anymore. I’m feeling so frustrated right now.” Verbally expressing this lets your child know that this is the first step: labeling the emotion. Then, you have the opportunity to show your child a healthy way of dealing with that emotion, such as talking it out, taking a deep breath, using positive self-talk, etc.
Now, this modeling isn’t something that must be done 100% of the time. You are human, and that’s practically impossible. But it’s just one of the simple ways that you can help your child who might be struggling in that area. Getting your child/teen a counselor to talk to is another great way to give them some extra support! If you think this is something you’re interested in, please feel free to reach out to Breaking Free Services. We LOVE helping parents and are dedicated to serving children and teens!
And don’t forget too, that if YOU are struggling, get yourself the extra support of having a counselor. Of the many difficulties that life brings, being overwhelmed as a parent is certainly one of them. YOU are worth investing in.