Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (March 28, 2019)
I love this quote by author and child-advocate L.R. Knost – “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm and not join the chaos”.
First of all, I think it’s important to remember that little people can have big emotions. The emotions of feeling frustrated, angry, worried or anxious don’t come in small sizes for small people – they can manifest themselves in big ways. And for little people who have less ability to self-regulate, these big emotions can be very chaotic.
This chaos can come out in words and actions and it’s important to differentiate between the emotion and the actions. It’s healthy and normal to have emotions but not all actions are healthy and normal. So if someone snatches your toy, yes it’s absolutely normal to feel hurt and angry but it’s not okay to hit your friend. If you wake up cranky and someone does something to annoy you (yes, even as an adult I can relate to this), it’s okay to be annoyed but it’s not okay to scream and shout. So we have to be able to let children experience the big emotions but teach them that they can only express their emotions in ways that are healthy and safe for themselves and others.
So when a little person is experiencing big emotions, the atmosphere is likely to get chaotic. And I am someone who really doesn’t like chaos. Chaos gets me agitated, unsettled and when the chaos is taking place in public places, it’s even harder to deal with because it often is accompanied with gawking eyes and judgmental looks. And it’s so tempted to get riled up in the chaos; to get sucked into the big emotions of it all. But to join the chaos is to get sucked into the tornado of chaos that continues to spiral. As adults, we have to be the ones with the emotional stability and intelligence to be able to self-regulate our own emotions and to turn the chaos into calm, at least in our hearts.
The quote talks about ‘sharing’ the calm but the visual way I see it is more like ‘blanketing the child in the calm’. When we stay calm and speak calmly and use calm words, it’s like a blanket that embraces them in calm.
So when my child has a meltdown, I try and show empathy by first saying “I understand you feel _________ (name the emotion). I know it’s hard when this happens and it’s okay to feel ________________ (name the emotion) but it’s not okay to ___________________________ (name the negative action). Please don’t do that again/say sorry/fix the situation.”
But obviously, like most other good things, all the above is easier said than done. So below are some pointers that I think help us parents in the moments of chaos.
C – count to 10
It doesn’t necessarily mean counting to 10 but it’s the act of taking a breath and calming down. It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos but taking a breather, a pause, counting to 10 can help us calm down.
A – avert their attention.
This shouldn’t be a long term solution because it’s not always about diverting their focus but I find that this diffuses situations before they escalate. When my son is crying for more chocolate milk, I ask him what snack he ate with his chocolate milk that day and then we start talking about snacks and then friends he ate with and then the conversation is diverted. Or I avert his attention with something humourous and that usually works well too.
L – look from a different perspective
I personally think that oftentimes we get upset at our children in their chaos because we don’t look at the situation from their perspective. If they’re playing in the playground and suddenly told to leave and they get upset, have we thought that they’re upset because they weren’t given forewarning? Or that they feel like you’re not understanding what they’re asking for? Looking from their perspective can help us calm down.
M – me-time
When we’re on a short fuse, it’s hard to stay calm! So all parents and caregivers should ensure that they have enough me-time. Whether it’s going out for a walk, binging on TV, heading to the spa or having a meal with friends, we all need time to ourselves.
Stay calm and don’t join the chaos!