Conflict Resolution Tool: Deal with the Emotion First

I am adding to each of the childhood milestones (which are listed nearly monthly) that I document a section called SURVIVING. It will feature tools to deal with difficult behavior. However, there are some tools that apply at every age. One such tool is dealing with your child’s emotions. Doing this applies across the board, from infancy until old age.

The main point I want to write for this is that the emotion must be dealt with first. If a child is extremely angry or sad, that in and of itself must be dealt with before you do anything with the child, such as seek cooperation or teach them anything.

A fundamental principle towards this end, which always applies, is to validate the feeling. One thing you can do towards this end is name the emotion. This is a skill to develop. Increase your vocabulary of emotion words. Try to match the name of the emotion to the exact intensity the child is feeling it. If they seem mildly scared of something, they might be “nervous.” If they are extremely scared, they might be “terrified.” Dr. Siegel calls this “name it to tame it.” You say, “I see how [emotion] you are.”

A few other tools help calm emotions at any age. One is Give in Fantasy What You Can’t Give in Reality. Another is to ask them to take a slow, deep breath, which is something you can better employ on the spot if you practice it at night occasionally.

In short, if you see your child is wildly upset, see it as like they just bashed their chin on the wall and there is a big bruise on it. It must be iced and kissed before moving on.

We can expand this much more with an understanding of the milestones too. With each milestone, a child at first becomes very irritable. If you know some of the skills they are working on at each milestone, you can make a much more educated guess as to what it is that is upsetting them. For instance, you might know that at a particular age, they have a high fear of abandonment, or they become very worried about the safety of their loved ones, or they just really love to count and categorize things. They can’t communicate these things well, but looking at the lists I provide will help. I have often been able to successfully use this knowledge to make highly educated guesses as to what might calm my child down. This is one of the ways that understanding child development can be enormously helpful! I’ll fill in how I use this at the milestones as I build these tools for the parenting tool box.


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