Emotion Management 101

The Scriptures tell us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). The heart, in Hebrew as well as English, refers to the “seat” of our emotions; that is, the part of ourselves from which our emotions spring. So how do we love God with all our emotions? And how do we teach our children to do the same?

  1. The three-year-old boy can’t operate his bubble gun. After about twenty seconds of trying, he throws it onto the ground in frustration.
  2. The four-year-old girl doesn’t want to lie down for rest time. She screams and kicks, refusing to comply.
  3. The six-year-old boy wants the brown crayon while another child has it. He breaks four other crayons because he can’t get it.

These are sinful actions, no doubt about it. But let’s be careful to distinguish the actions from the emotions. Depending on the age of the child and other factors, discipline may be appropriate for actions springing from certain emotions, but let’s never discipline our kids for feeling angry, frustrated, or other so-called “bad” emotions.

Consider:

  • God is emotional. He loves; He is pleased by things; He gets frustrated (e.g. the Hebrew people in the wilderness, Exodus 32:7-10).
  • Jesus experienced everything involved in being human—including emotions: He loved, He wept, He got angry—and even acted on that anger (Mark 11:15-17)! Yet He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).
  • We humans, created in the image of God and patterning our lives on the example of Jesus, are emotional beings.
  • The Bible never says, “Don’t get angry.” Rather, it says, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).

Clearly, the experience of strong emotions is not automatically sinful. The sin associated with emotion comes from one of two issues. Either sin causes the emotion (e.g. selfishness leads to impatience), or we respond to the emotion in a sinful way (e.g. hitting someone in anger). For our concrete-thinking children, let’s focus on the second, more tangible issue: responding to emotions.

Responding to Our Emotions

When we experience a negative emotion, we have three response options. (I’m not a psychologist. These are just my observations.)

  1. We can act out. The child in example 3 above broke crayons because he didn’t know how to practice patience.
  2. We can stuff the emotion back down inside ourselves. This often happens if we shame our children for feeling a certain way. Eventually, all those swallowed emotions will probably cause the child to explode. I’ve seen this happen with my own kids.
  3. We can handle the emotion responsibly. People (children and adults) can’t do this without training.

Handling emotions is a learned skill, not something we’re born with. How can we teach our kids to manage their emotions well?

Build Vocabulary

First, we must build emotional vocabulary through observation and experience. For our younger children, we name it: “Noah, you’re feeling angry.” Or “Sarah, you’re feeling sad.” Or “Mommy is feeling frustrated.” Say it out loud. Ask your child to say it out loud.

We follow the feelings statement with why. “You’re feeling angry because the bubble gun isn’t working for you.” “…because your friend can’t come play with you today.” “…because I’ve told you all to pick up your toys five times already and you haven’t done it.” (Maybe that last one is just me.) If we model this verbal acknowledgement, our children will learn to do the same.

Offer Action Steps

Next, we must offer concrete action steps for managing various emotions, e.g. “When I am angry, I can do ten jumping jacks to calm down or I can take a deep breath and back away.” The actions you offer will depend on the child. I suggest you give two acceptable options. Choosing will help your child feel in control of the situation. Offer action steps for the positive emotions, too. “When I am happy, I can sing a song or I can skip across the yard.” Keep the options consistent if possible. If little Noah always has the same two options for managing his anger, he’ll soon learn to choose even before you offer the options.

Lots and lots of praise would be appropriate when she successfully manages a difficult emotion on her own!

Play a Game

To introduce this new way of managing emotions, play charades with your child/children. First, the parent models the emotion and the child guesses. Once the child has named the emotion, give a reason one might feel that way. Say for example, “I am sad because my friend forgot my birthday.” Next, model various positive and negative ways to manage that emotion. (Use options your kids might use.) Ask your children to decide if each way is acceptable. When you’ve settled on at least two healthy ways to deal with the emotion, ask each child which one he/she would choose for that emotion.

After your children understand the game, let them model various emotions and responses. Make sure to discuss each response.

How do we love God with all our emotions, not just the positive ones? We handle them in a way that brings Him glory. We take them under control and learn to manage them–and teach our kids to do the same–so it’s clear to everyone that we love Him.

#Emotions themselves aren’t sinful. It’s how we handle them that counts. Let’s teach our children some emotional management skills. #IntentionalParenting via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

What practical ways have you found to help your children deal with their emotions in a way that honors God? We would all love to hear some “best practices!”

Want more? Check out this post from Desiring God for more on handling emotions as a Christ-following adult.

 

Of Soft Toothbrushes and Soft Answers

She liked to play quietly and she went to sleep without any problems. She was an easy-going three-year-old for the most part…

Except for twice a day, when it was time to brush her teeth.

For some reason, she hated teeth-brushing. It wasn’t the paste (designed for kids). It wasn’t the bristles on the brush (extra soft). It wasn’t the brushing (very, very gentle). It wasn’t my attitude…at least at first. Nevertheless, when she saw me squeeze the paste onto the toothbrush, she inevitably started squirming. She would wiggle and refuse to open her mouth. I would raise my voice. She would start crying. I would grip her jaw more tightly and hope her Dad could be home for the next session. By the time we finished, she and I both needed a time out.

I tried logic: “Brushing your teeth keeps your mouth from getting sick and helps your teeth be strong. You want strong teeth, don’t you?”

I tried identifying with her: “We all have to do things we don’t like to do. Mommy doesn’t like washing dishes, yet she does it every day. It’s just part of life.”

I tried bribery (but not with candy because would have been just too hypocritical): “When we finish here, you can watch a video!”

Nothing worked. This happened twice every day, but we had to brush her teeth. Such things aren’t optional. Still, she and I both dreaded it.

I felt silly, but I took our problem to the Lord. We had awkwardly prayed through potty training, and this felt similar. Like most of us, some of my prayers were of the “change her” variety and only a few were of the “change me” variety. (Just by the way, “change me” invariably works better.)

Not immediately but rather quickly, the most commonplace of verses came to mind:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. -Proverbs 15:1 NKJV

Really, Lord? Is that all I get?

I tried it at our next teeth-brushing session. Even when she protested, I stayed calm. I kept my voice soft and gentle. Then, instead of crying and becoming more difficult, my child responded to my gentleness and calmed down too. We made it through the process without tears or harsh words or threats!

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http://www.quotefancy.com

It’s been ten years since those terrible teeth-brushing days, but I’m still thankful God sent us through them. I learned something about my child—about most children who haven’t been conditioned otherwise—that remains true. She doesn’t respond well to raised voices, yelling, or harsh tones. I wish I could say I’ve never yelled at her since those days in the yellow-and-white-striped bathroom, but I can say this: Raising my voice has never been effective with this one.

Reading recently, we came upon this:

Her face was pure, furious, madder-than-mad human. “Did you hear me, boy?”
I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t good at quick answers when people yelled.
-Joy Cowley in Stories of the Wild West Gang

Looks like my child is not alone.

Two things here. I pray they help you with whatever parent-child struggle you are currently facing.

  1. God hears our parenting prayers and often answers them through His Word. (click to tweet) Just pay attention.
  2. In Intentional Parenting, it’s the parent’s responsibility to pay attention to the child’s responses and learn how best to discipline each individual child.

What about you? Use the comment section to tell us how God has guided your parenting though His Word!