Dealing with your child’s challenging emotions

Monique Simpson

I was reading back over the questions that you posted me and there was a common theme emerging…

“What is the best way to deal with  my child when they are feeling upset, frustrated, annoyed, disappointed?”

I am pleased that this topic was raised because it is an area of treatment that I get quite passionate about and I would like to share my thoughts with you…

So often we are happy to engage with children (not just special needs kids!) when they are happy and joyous, but we tend to disconnect with them when they are experiencing more challenging emotions.

But why do we do this?

Feelings of frustration, sadness annoyance etc are all basic (and completely normal) human emotions that we all encounter on a regular basis. But when this happens to our own child we are naturally driven to find a way of making them feel ‘happy’ again by saying things like “Stop crying”, “You’re okay”, “Where’s your happy face?”, “It’s ok, how about we have something to eat”.

But all this actually does is disconnects us from what they are really experiencing and feeling, and we miss an important opportunity to ‘connect’ with our child and to help them learn and grow from the experience. Your ultimate goal in any situation like this should be to help your child learn something new so they can be better prepared to understand or cope with the situation in the future.

So please, please, please do not squash these emotions in your child.
They are ‘real’ and ‘normal feelings as well as  fabulous learning opportunities!

It is very important that your child learns to emotionally connect with you when they are experiencing more challenging emotions because:

  • There is so much that you can teach your child about life by working through these challenging times together (emotional development).
  • You want to always encourage your child to ‘connect’ and ‘communicate’ with you when they are experiencing these emotions so that they don’t feel alone with these emotions and so they learn more effective and appropriate ways of expressing themselves when they are upset or angry.

Here are the steps I would recommend that you follow the next time your child is experiencing these more challenging emotions…

1. Show your child that you understand how they are feeling and that you are ok with this.

For example if your child is crying and saying “I want biscuit” even though you have said no, you will match the tone and emotion in their voice and say “I know you want biscuit, I know you want biscuit, but Mummy said no more”. It’s important not to have a judgmental tone of voice as you are saying this. Simply show your child that you hear what they are saying and that you know that the situation is making them feel sad.

If your child is open to a cuddle then while you are talking to them I would give them a slightly stronger cuddle (what we call “deep pressure”) as this should be reassuring and soothing for them. If your child is non-verbal you can still show them that you understand by hugging them and matching their vocialisations and body movements.

2. Help calm your child down.

When something upseting happens, your child’s first response will be to go into “survival mode”,  shutting down all rational thinking and problem solving skills. So the calmer your child is the easier it will be for them to think clearly and to learn from the situation. It will also help you move them on from the challenging emotion to a more organised or ‘normal’ state.

3. Wait for the right moment to help your child learn.

Once your child has calmed down this is the right time to provide some further learning in the situation. There is absolutely no point trying to do any talking or explanation whilst your child is in survival mode. At this time you could:

– Talk about the thoughts, feelings and ideas behind what happened (depending upon your child’s comprehension).

– Help move your child onto another activity, because children with autism can tend to ‘perseverate’ (get stuck on) the same recurring thought.

4. Pitch your child’s learning at the right level

This is really important! To effectively help your child learn from the situation you need to be able to ‘pitch’ your child’s learning at the right level for them so that they learn new skills and grow from the experience.

It’s a bit like trying to teach high school mathematics to a group of 5 year olds. No matter how hard you try or how many times you try to teach it to them they simply aren’t going to understand it or learn anything new.

So how do you know what the right level of learning is for your child??

You need to have a really good understanding of your child’s sensory, emotional, thinking and learning profile. Just as we know that typically developing 5 year olds will not be able to understand high school mathematics, you need to know where your child is at with each of the key developmental areas in order to know what they will be capable of learning in any given  moment.

If you are interested in further training on how to do this and acquiring the skills to turn every interaction with your child into an amazing learning opportunity then please take a look at the various training modules in my Autism Essentials Training Program.

Also, please share your experiences with us by leaving a comment below.
What are some of your child’s more challenging emotions?
How have you been dealing with them up till now and has this been working well?

Until next week. Happy connecting! 🙂

Best wishes

PS: Just in case you don’t already know, each of the training modules in the Autism Essentials Program are now available separately. So if you feel you only need help with one particular area of developmental then this may be a good option for you. Or you can choose to start gradually with one or two volumes and order more as your skills develop over time. It’s completely up to you.

PPS:The program also comes with my 60-day satisfaction guarantee. Open it up, try it out, go through all of the training modules and if for any reason you are not happy, simply return it to us and we’ll refund your purchase price. So you’ve got plenty of time to decide if it’s right for you, without any of the financial pressures that come with a new purchase.

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