Watching your child suffer in any way can be extremely tough. And whilst certain types of pain like cuts and bruises can be fixed with a band-aid and a bit of TLC, emotional pain can be harder to tackle.
So what exactly can you do to help your child deal with sadness or anger after a traumatic or difficult experience?
Talk, listen, acknowledge and empathise
To understand their thoughts and feelings, you need to listen. Ask your child about their day, ask about their feelings, try and understand what triggers their sadness or anger. If you struggle to get your child to open up to you or even talk to you in the first place, try asking open questions. An open question is any question that cannot be answered with a one-word answer. Asking these types of questions will encourage your child to get talking and will help you uncover the root of their issues.
When your child does eventually start to open up, make sure you acknowledge their feelings, even if you don’t necessarily understand or agree with them. Acknowledging their feelings will help them feel validated and heard which will encourage them to keep opening up to you.
If your child is experiencing continuous anger or sadness, then it will take time and patience to resolve. Don’t expect to be able to fix things overnight and don’t get frustrated when progress is slow. It’s important to stay calm and show your child that you are there to support them no matter what. Eventually, when they feel safe enough to do so, they will begin to open up.
Use playtime productively
With younger children, playtime can be used as a means of understanding, expressing and resolving their feelings. For example, if your child is experiencing anger, try getting them to express this anger with art or another fun activity. You can give their anger a name and ask them to draw it. This can help them express their anger in a productive, controlled and therapeutic way.
In slightly older children, sport can also be used as a means of releasing anger and frustration in a healthy way. It also releases endorphins which can have an extremely positive impact on their mental health.
Positive feedback is key to your child’s development. Reassuring them that their feelings are valid and that they are making good progress is key to resolving their feelings.
But staying positive should also be a mindset for both you and your child. As an adult, one way of dealing with overwhelming sadness is by writing a list of 3 things that you are thankful for at the beginning or the end of every day. This helps you remember some of the positive elements of your life rather than focusing on the negative things.
The same can be done with children through playtime and story time. Get them to tell you what they learnt at school or ask them to draw their favourite person for you. By actively asking them to bring things they enjoy and like into their play time, you are enabling them to think about and focus on the positive things in their life.
Teach coping mechanisms
You might not be with your child every time they feel angry or overwhelmed. Actively teaching them methods in order to cope with these feelings will help them stay in control when you are not around. Some tips for children coping with anger are:
- Recognise the signs of anger (a racing heart, feeling hot, tense muscles etc)
- Evaluate how angry you are (give it a number from 1 to 10)
- Cool your body down by:
- breathing slowly
- counting from 1 to 10
- take time out in a quiet place
- go for a walk
- draw your feelings
- Tell an adult that you are feeling angry and need to take some time out
Giving your child a method and process in order to deal with their emotions helps give them a feeling of control over the situation.
Get professional help
If your child is experiencing continuous sadness or anger and you are unable to resolve it by talking and playing at home, contact your family doctor. They will be able to offer you guidance and direct you to the appropriate services to help your child process their feelings.
Asking experienced professionals to help you and your child understand these difficult emotions is not a sign of weakness. It is, in fact, a sign of strength.
And finally… don’t be too hard on yourself
When watching your child experience unpleasant or difficult feelings, it’s easy to blame yourself or think that you have done something wrong. But beating yourself up over things is not useful to you or your child. Be kind to yourself and make sure you also get time to relax and process your own emotions.
There’s nothing wrong with asking friends, family or even teachers for a bit of assistance. At best, they may have experienced similar situations with their own children and can give you some useful advice. Or, at the very least, they can offer you a bit of much-needed support.
So when it comes to supporting your child through hardship, be patient, stay positive and make sure that you too are getting the support and reassurance that you need.
What are your tips for bringing a troubled child out of their shell? Tell us in the comments below.