Tips for Healthy Talk About Emotions: Setting Emotional Boundaries with Your Child, Part Two

Have your children ever seen you erupt? One moment, you’re calm Mom or cool Dad and the next moment…BOOM! You’re Mt. Vesuvius, spewing anger, frustration, or hurt. As boiling lava careens down the mountain, your children are caught in its wake, drowning in your hot fury. Has that ever happened to you? Yep. Me too.Setting Emotional Boundaries with Your Child

In Part One of this series, I told about an incident when my daughter hurt my feelings. I, Mt. Mom, nearly exploded. Somehow, I dug deep into my parenting tool bag and was able to grab an extinguisher. You and I, we’re parents, not puppets. We have feelings and it’s okay to own them.

In fact, if you want to avoid big blowups that will potentially damage your children and leave you filled with regret, it’s important to talk constructively with them about your emotions. We want our kids to be real with us, to tell us about the things they loathe, love, fear, and dream of. But sometimes parents keep a tough exterior, rarely giving kids a glimpse of adult vulnerability. Other parents have no problem showing their emotion, but they have a hard time talking about it in a healthy way. We can’t teach our children how to speak constructively about their emotions if we can’t talk about our own. “Do as I say, not as I do” isn’t effective. Setting a positive example – “Monkey see, monkey do” – works much better. (Yes, I did liken your child to a monkey. Just “go”rilla with it.)

Here are some helpful tools for your parenting bag:

1. Address, don’t suppress. Think of this like a turtleneck shirt that fits snugly. From the moment you put it on, the shirt feels a little annoying but you ignore it. It’s just a shirt, you think. I’ll get used to it. You working diligently on the day’s tasks. But the snugness keeps you vaguely on edge. By lunch time, you are tugging on the neck, pulling it up over your chin, hoping to stretch it out. But it’s still too snug. If only I had picked a different shirt this morning…, you moan to yourself mid-afternoon. By the end of the day, it’s driving you crazy and you can’t wait to get home and RIP IT OFF!

Setting Emotional Boundaries with Your ChildIf your kid is saying or doing something that annoys you, take action as soon as you recognize it. Remove the turtleneck immediately! Others may think it’s petty but if it has the potential to make you explode, it’s worth addressing. You don’t have to listen to ten minutes of little Billy making shrieking sounds for his toy fire engines. Instead, start a conversation with him. Or give him a task that puts in him another room. Or say in a calm voice, “Billy, that sound is hurting my ears. Can you sing me a song instead?” And yes, you WILL be able to say it in a calm voice because you are addressing it BEFORE you get to the breaking point.

2. Be kind. Nothing will close the ears of your listener more quickly than the feeling that they are being attacked. Avoid foul language, name calling, and character assassination. Speak calmly.

Instead, take a few seconds to think about what you’re going to say. Take a deep breath. Maybe count to ten. If you regularly address your kids by a a nickname or term of endearment – and they like it – try starting your sentence by using that name. Honey, I don’t like it when… The first word out of your mouth is loving, which is important when you’re about to say something negative.

Stay focused on the behavior you want to correct. “You’re being mean” is an example of character assassination. It says something negative about who your child is as a person. Also, it’s not specific enough. Timmy, It frustrates me when you speak to me in that tone is much clearer and kinder.

3. Teach, don’t trip. Before reacting to the annoyance, remember that you want to constructively teach your child how to treat you. This is not a pass to send her on a guilt trip or to get back at her with your own power trip. For example, your child is swinging her legs under the table and you’re getting kicked. How do you respond?

20150531_140210Option A: You kick her back and say, “You see? That’s how it feels when you get kicked!”

Option B: You firmly say, “I don’t like it when you kick me. Stop.”

Which of those responses is teaching your child something constructive? With Option A, she learns that the bigger bully wins. With Option B, you are modeling how to stand up for yourself and say No.

I will have three more tips for you in my next post. Meanwhile, take careful note of the way your child’s words and actions make you feel. Identifying and constructively verbalizing your emotions is a necessity if you want to set boundaries with your kids.

Here’s to happy and healthy parenting!

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