This 2016 Presidential Election was highly emotional for our family. Olivia and Alexandra were both very interested and involved in the progress of the presidential election. Olivia had a school project following both candidates, their platforms and policies, and even analyzing the debates. Alexandra was studying US History at the time, and the structure of American government became a topic of interest for her.
I don’t consider myself liberal or conservative. In my state, you must be registered a with a political party to vote in primary elections, so I register as a Democrat. But I tend to view issues individually. I do not subscribe to the group think often promoted by our bi-partisan political system. All that said, I was torn on how I would cast my ballot for president before Donald Trump won the Republican nomination.
My girls were not as indecisive. Growing up in a world where they have only known a black male POTUS, they were wide-eyed and optimistic about Hillary Clinton’s chances. Why couldn’t a woman be president? They were so excited they asked me to post this video to Facebook Live after we cast our ballot.
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Wednesday morning I had a difficult time trying to manage emotions. Olivia cried inconsolably. She didn’t want to go to school and hear her peers talk about how and why they voted for Donald Trump. She wasn’t ready for a president who “promotes hate, treats women badly and doesn’t like people who look like” her. I listened intently hoping for an opportunity to interject some mommy wisdom and make it all better. I had nothing.
What I did have to offer was a listening ear, an honest response, and sincere empathy. As parents, we must be highly emotionally intelligent. That means we must be able to properly identify, label and use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior – both ours and theirs.
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Allow space for the feeling to exist.
Emotions are real. And they need space to breathe. If not, they’ll blow up like Anger from Pixar’s Inside Out. Sadness has a purpose and a place in our feelings. Acknowledge the validity of the feelings before trying to manage emotions.
Listen without judgment.
Don’t be so quick to respond when your child is telling you how she feels. I know—you’ve been there and done that and don’t want her to make the same mistakes or experience the same hurts. The benefits of age, wisdom, and experience have a place. That place is not in an emotional discussion. Let her get it off her chest.
Ask questions with sincere curiosity.
I’m a fixer. It’s in my nature. And the hardest thing to do when you’re a fixer is to engage without offering a fix to the problem. To effectively help your child manage emotions, let them know that not only are his feelings valid but that you hear him. Asking well placed, open-ended questions helps him develop the tools needed to begin processing the feelings and work toward a solution.
So maybe it wasn’t that Olivia was inconsolable rather than I had no consolation to offer. I was hurt, confused, and angry myself. I was having a hard enough time trying to manage emotions I had. So when she asked me what to do, I told her the truth: I don’t know. We discussed staying home from school that day. I offered to come pick her up if the emotion got too much to handle. We can’t dismiss our children’s feeling and tell them to “suck it up,” when we’re struggling too. Seeing that parents have trouble with emotion too can validate their own feelings.
Reframe when appropriate.
Once the feelings have had space to breathe, discussion has been had, and processing has begun it’s time to address them. Sometimes the emotion itself is needed to address the stress—like when Sadness gives you a good cleansing cry. Other times the energy devoted to emotions should be redirected and refocused into other actions.
As awful as it may sound, Olivia was able to redirect that day at school by providing grief support to others in the loss of her classmate just days earlier.
The process of helping children manage emotions is complex. But these simple strategies can help you getting started in the right way.
What ways do you help your children manage emotions? Share your successes in the comments below.