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They’re Watching! Modeling Appropriate Coping Skills for Your Child

A child’s brain absorbs much more than we think: your actions, words, tone of voice, and even your emotions. They are sponges, and we are the water. It’s easy for us to forget that we are constant models for our children. Too often, I hear parents tell me, “I probably shouldn’t have said or done that in front of my kid.” So what’s the good news? You can totally use your own actions to your advantage! Here are some quick tips for modeling the very behavior you want to see in your child.

  1. Put words to your emotion – If you’re having a big feeling (anger, frustration, worry), pause for a moment to recognize it. If your child is around, say the emotion out loud. Example: “Wow, I just realized I am feeling really frustrated right now.” It helps to even describe what that emotion physically feels like for you. Example: “I can what I’m feeling is ‘frustration’ because my heart started to beat really fast and I started to feel warm.”
  2. Model calm strategies for managing your own emotions – Once you identify the emotion as stated above, now model an appropriate coping skill. Some strategies include pausing and taking big deep breaths, taking a break from the task you are doing, or counting to 20. Verbalizing what you are doing is essential as well. Example: “Since I’m feeling frustrated right now, I’m going to take 5 deep breaths to calm down my body and my brain.”
  3. Set boundaries – I often hear parents express frustration with how they act in front of their children. Set boundaries and expectations as parents that are consistent with your significant other or any other caregiver. For example, agree that when an argument begins, use a universal signal with other adults to pause the possibly escalating conversation and continue when you are confident your kids aren’t present. Use these moments to acknowledge the above strategies as well. An example from mom to dad: “This topic is making me feel a little frustrated, so let’s take a break to cool off and we can continue this conversation at a later time.” Making sure you both follow through is very important!
  4. Validate the emotions your family experiences – Always acknowledge emotions, whether positive or negative. We need to teach children that it’s okay to experience any emotion they may have, while also showing them that the next part is learning how to manage those emotions appropriately. Even if your child is having a tantrum for something that’s not going their way, validate that emotion. Example: “I understand you’re feeling frustrated right now because you can’t go to your friend’s house. I would feel that way too.” Once you validate, then you can move into problem solving mode.

Remember, none of us are perfect. Do your best and acknowledge and learn from your mistakes. Your kids are blessed to have you as parents.