If you're around young children for any length of time, you'll see some big emotions. Kids experience a wide range of feelings and reactions, and because they're so young, they have trouble understanding and articulating them. They're working out life in a world that can be tough and confusing. There's a language barrier, and so much gets lost in translation.
When my kids were young, I was always encouraging them to use their words. Don't keep it inside! Use your words. Even now, my mature sixth grader needs to be reminded to do this.
We say kids are resilient and recover quickly, but more often than not, with few tools for working out their stress, they internalize, repress, and move on; not because it's resolved, but because they have to. And you can bet that anything internalized and repressed will come out later in out-of-proportion reactions to stress or disappointment. Kids can grow anxious, angry, or insecure, and it can color their interactions with family and friends.
If we don't grow in our ability to see, understand, and process our internal world in healthy ways, the effects last into adulthood and can really break us down.
If you have a child in your life, they either just got through a big reaction, or they are approaching one! Sometimes these reactions seem so sudden, so out-of-proportion to the moment, that we get exasperated as parents or teachers. Right now? Really?
But here is the crucial point: any time we have a big reaction, it needs real attention. Right now, or as soon as possible.
When a child in your life lashes out or grows incredibly quiet and goes "inside themselves" in reaction to something, picture Jesus holding out a big, red STOP sign. This is your cue to pause, breathe, and connect with what's underneath it all. Take five, connect with them, and work through it now, because if they "put it away" and we just wait until it blows over, we're really just making a reservation for a future meltdown.
Because left to it's own, it won't go. It'll grow.
When your child hits a "moment", help them pause. Get on their level, and connect. Encourage them to stop, breathe, and focus on you. Validate their feelings, because they're real. Give them some words to describe what's going on. Let them cool down for a moment if they need it, but be sure they know you aren't going anywhere.
Encourage your child to give their big feelings a name. Start by asking them, "Do you feel sad, mad, or bad?"
Sad and mad are both ways we react to pain from outside sources. We've been hurt somehow so we react. We cry, we feel low and crushed. Or, we get angry. We rage and lash out. If your child says they're sad or mad, help them backtrack and find the catalyst, where it all started. Let them explain it with their own words, then explain it back to them so they know you heard and understand. Validate them if they've got a good reason to feel sad or mad, and if they don't, take a minute to explain the situation from another point of view.
When we're sad or mad, there's a good chance another person could be involved. Maybe you, or a sibling. In that case, you might need to help them forgive, or get forgiven yourself.
Bad is a bit different. Bad usually means I feel bad about me. Maybe they've done something wrong. Perhaps it was a while ago, and they tried to hide it, but it's been eating them up. Maybe they feel like they are doing the same wrong thing over and over and they just can't stop. A young child doesn't have big money words like guilt, shame, or condemnation, but they do know they feel bad. Help them talk it out, get forgiveness and give it, and then fill them up with good things. Let them know how you feel about them, how God feels about them. Tell them true things. Let them see that even at their messiest, you don't go anywhere, and you love them and want them just the same.
Once you're in a good place, then work out some simple action steps for how we can handle a situation like this in the future. But wait on that until love has won it over. When love is anchoring them down, those helpful words can take hold.
And most importantly, when you feel the feels, when you overreact, stop. Learn the practice of pausing. This is how God cultivates a healthy and strong heart in us. Give words to the why you feel this way. Work it out with God, with others, and don't put it off. Get forgiveness right now, connect right now; don't shove it. When you get messy, let your kids see you model how to be imperfect and healthy. Let them know real and messy is good, and we're here to stick together.