Deep down parents of kids with big emotions all have the same fears: is my child going to be ok without me? Is my kid going to be able to grow up into a healthy happy adult? The answer is: yes and there can be a silver lining in your child’s emotional dysregulation.
With each outburst children have an opportunity to grow and learn. Managing difficult emotions now (frustration, oversensitivity, disappointment, anxiety, rigid thinking) offers the opportunity to develop emotional muscle memory. It’s a chance to practice one of the most important skills for life success — resilience.
Whether it’s getting pushed on the playground or turned down for a great career opportunity, the underlying emotional and physical mechanics are the same. Learning how to turn these negatives into a positive is a skill that everyone can practice and develop — beginning in childhood.
Here is my quick breakdown of five different outbursts you may be seeing today that can mean success for your child later on.
1. Frustration now means advocacy later.
Frustration is a product of: (1) knowing what one wants and (2) acutely expressing disappointment about not getting these wants. This is actually a good thing. If you had a quiet shy child easily manipulated on the playground, you would likely be worried in a very different way.
Expressing frustration is the first step to becoming an independent, willful human being. While a full-blown outburst may be undesirable in a grocery store, this trait, when managed, creates a strong, independent adult willing to stand up for what she believes in. It can be a tough ride, but with practice and time your frustrated child now will turn into strong advocate for what is right, true and good in the world.
2. Over-sensitivity now means empathic later.
I often tell parents that sensitivity is a gift. It might break your heart to see your child cry at a birthday party while other children are giggling. However, with careful guidance and practice these sensitive traits can be channeled into empathy and creativity. Some of the world’s greatest artists, inventors and visionaries had big emotions as children.
The art of learning how to “feel deeply” begins as a child: 1) kids need to learn to acknowledge their sensitive emotions; 2) then they learn how to cope with them; 3) then they learn how to channel them into something bigger, better and more productive. Quite frankly I find that sensitive children become more interesting, nuanced, intuitive and thoughtful adults; my most favorite friends and colleagues were big-emotioned kids.
3. Disappointment now means resilience later.
Big and small disappointments are a part of your child’s life (not getting picked for a team, being shunned at recess, not being able to go to a beloved movie). As parents, it can be crushing to watch your child struggle with these painful let-downs. However, learning how to cope with these feelings of rejection, sadness, and disappointment is a really important life skill.
Let’s face it, all of us have had moments when we didn’t get what we wanted: a job, a college admission, a date, an athletic win. What determines our success is NOT what we didn’t get, but what we DID with our failures. This is a learned practice and a skill that comes with years of learning how to manage disappointment.
As parents it’s important (but hard) to remember that the big emotions surrounding disappointment are essentially building the necessary emotional muscle memory for later success. These emotional recoveries create resilience and equip kids with the belief that setbacks are simply a part of life — and not obstacles to achievements.
4. Anxiety now means conscientiousness later.
Anxiety can be crippling, making it hard for kids to complete tasks and feel safe in their environment. However, properly managed anxiety can be a very helpful trait. We are all born with anxiety. It’s in our DNA. We needed it back in the prehistoric times to help us escape from animals and search for food. It prevents us from doing dangerous things and helps us get important tasks done. However, gone awry- anxiety can be debilitating.
Kids need to learn how to practice managing their anxiety — taking the good and doing away with the bad. When effective, anxiety becomes conscientiousness (you meet your deadlines, you complete your homework, you look both ways before crossing the street). Just like any skill, learning how to channel your anxiety into the positive takes practice. Its normal for your kids now to have moments when it gets the best of them; and it’s perfectly acceptable that they would have to practice pushing through the moments that are scary in order to learn which moments are good to push and when it’s good to be afraid.
Some of the most successful humans I know have struggled with significant anxiety, but because they learned how to properly manage and channel — they have flipped these debilitating feelings into a skill and secret weapon.
5. Rigidity now means creative thinker later.
Rigid thinking is really an expression of: (1) seeing the world differently and (2) and unwillingness to cave to another’s perspective. Expressed loudly in public when faced with normal parental limits these traits seem tedious, “Why can’t my child just do as he is told?” However, when managed, your child can learn to turn their unconventional thoughts and strong resolve into creativity and big thinking adults. Again, as with most of these outbursts, in the moment it is difficult as a parent to see the positive in an oppositional child but with practice these kids can begin to learn how to maintain their convictions AND compromise to function with others. Some of my favorite creative big thinkers today tell me that they tortured their parents as children!
Parents, buckle up, none of this is easy. Channeling big emotions into later success requires patience, love and a lot of hope. But — it is possible. Very few achievements in life occur without practice and hard work. Just like a sport, school subject, music or art — these skills take practice. It’s also important to remember that progress, for all of us, especially children, is not linear. Try, if you can, to celebrate the small wins along the way with the knowledge that what feels like steps backwards may actually be laying the foundation for incredible steps forward.