Updated: Dec 25, 2021
A lot of us growing up may not have had parents who modeled how to work through difficult emotions for us. In an ideal world, we would have all had parents who mirrored our emotional states by saying things like "I can see that you are frustrated" or "I can see that you are sad" to teach us to how to cope with our emotions.
This process would have taught us how to self-soothe, where we regulate our emotions in healthy ways that allow us to calm down. When we are calm, we process information better and respond to situations differently. So for many of us that haven't learned this when we were growing up, it can be a struggle to cope with our emotions and thoughts especially as we get older and find ourselves in complex situations such as romantic relationships or unsupportive work environments. It may cause us to lash out, completely shut down or abuse substances, and lean on other downright unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Now add all of that to the stress of parenting! If you can relate to the above, there is good news! You can still change the way you work through your emotional states! And your kids can actually be a great way to practice these skills.
But before we begin, we have to talk about this concept of responding or reacting.
Reacting means that you meet your child’s or the other person's emotionally-charged behaviour with your own emotionally-charged reply. They are shouting, so you join by also shouting back, maybe even louder.
Responding, on the other hand, gives your child or the other person space to express the emotion they feel, their ideas, and feelings of the situation without any criticism, shame, or guilt. If your child or the other person is upset because something doesn’t seem fair to them, you let them be frustrated and express empathy by saying "I can see why you might be angry because [thing] doesn't seem fair to you".
At first, you might feel like responding to your child or the other person is ineffective, or a passive way of handling a situation. You may feel that you need to stand up for yourself by being reactive however, in the long term, you will find that your child or the other person feels it is safe to express their thoughts and emotions.
Your child will especially trust that you will help them identify these emotions and feelings. You do two things here, you teach your children important life skills that will lead them to become emotionally healthy and resilient adults and you become self-aware, are able to communicate and work through conflict.
If you self-reflect and find that you re-act most of the time, this may be difficult to start with but with anything practice makes perfect. A good way for you to begin as you go about your daily life is to look out for the times where you can actively respond rather than react. You might not get it right the first, second, third time but don't give up. It is also not a sign of witness to say "I am sorry, what I meant to say was..." or "This is making me feel upset because [thing] does not feel right".