Emotions and Behavior
In this section, you will learn how to interpret your child’s emotions and behaviors.
The learning objectives for this section are:
- Explain the impact of your own emotions on your child and your parenting decisions.
- Explain the connection between how your child behaves and how they are feeling inside.
- Identify three effective strategies to help your child cope with strong emotions.
- Identify when you may need to get help.
Your emotional challenges may impact your parenting. These challenges may also cause your child to react to your unique conditions.
Often a child's difficult emotions and behaviors are their way of asking for help.
Select the Play Button to hear Matt’s son talk about why he began acting out while his dad was deployed.
Understand Your Child's Behavior
A child's behavior is their way of telling you how they feel and what they need. Recognizing these hidden messages can help you figure out how best to help your child.
In this exercise you will try to identify the underlying emotions and needs of some common behaviors. To begin, select your child's age group.
Select the Learn More Button for more information on your child's behaviors.
Behavior: Infant is fussy and not sleeping well
What is your child trying to tell you?
Difficult Behaviors May Come with Difficult Emotions
Your child's behavior may be challenging for various reasons. If your child has had a major change in his or her life, their behaviors may be their way of coping with that experience.
Select the Play Button to hear Edwin discuss his daughter's behavior. As you watch, think about the possible emotions or needs underlying her behavior.
There Is More Than One Way to Express the Same Emotion
A child's behavior will depend on age, gender, and temperament.
For instance, a 3-year old might express anger by hitting, while a 14-year old may withdraw from the family.
Select the Play Button to hear Matt discuss the different ways his children express their emotions.
Strategies That Can Help
It is important that you understand the link between your child’s emotions and behaviors.
When you ask yourself why your child is behaving a certain way, you focus on the underlying emotions and distress.
Select Each Image to review four helpful strategies you can use to help your child cope with difficult emotions.
Be aware of your own feelings
If you're very angry with something that your child has done, don't respond immediately out of anger. The more you are in control of your own feelings the better parenting choices you will make.
How Emotions Impact Others
When your child is angry, sad, acting out or withdrawing, what are your usual reactions? Do you get angry, upset, or perhaps, you feel hopeless?
In these times of distress, it is important to view the problem from your child's perspective.
Select the Learn More Button to complete an activity that demonstrates how we react to emotions and behaviors can actually make a difference.
Molly’s Reaction to her Child’s Behavior
Select each Audio Button to listen to examples of a parent reacting to her child's behavior.
It was a tough day at work for Molly...
Molly came back from grocery shopping...
The Impact of Your Emotions on Your Child’s Coping Skills
Your child’s coping skills are learned through interactions with you. Your reaction to their crying, angry outbursts, or sad moods, gives them clear messages about what is okay and what is not.
Another way your child learns to deal with their emotions is by watching you.
When your emotions take over, you can't think as clearly. You may not make good decisions as you respond to your child's behavior; therefore, you may end up reacting to their behavior, but not solving the problem.
Because your emotions can affect your parenting, it is important that you know how to successfully manage them.
The better you can cope with your own emotions, the more positive impact you can have on your child.
Select the Learn More Button to examine some helpful tips for managing emotions.
Manage Your Own Emotions
There are three common strategies to get you started with managing your emotions.
Select Each Tab to learn more.
Being Aware of Your Emotions
Managing your feelings is difficult if you don't know how you feel!
One way to know how you feel is to check your emotional state. Try asking yourself, "How do I feel right now?"
Another way is to periodically examine how you have been managing your emotions and identify areas for improvement.
Avoiding Emotional Overreactions to Your Child's Behavior
You may find your child's behaviors bring about strong emotions for you. If your emotions are on edge and you are about to explode, you have other choices, such as:
- Taking a moment to calm yourself down.
- Taking a walk or doing some form of physical activity.
- Talking to someone you trust.
- Taking a moment to understand the underlying cause of your child’s behavior.
Seeking Help for Difficult Emotions
Some situations may require extra help. Parenting is even more difficult if you struggle with intense anger, substance abuse, depression, or post-traumatic stress symptoms. Even very young children will react to tension at home.
If you have difficulty managing your emotions, you may want to consider getting support. Please refer to the Support Resources Tip Sheet at the end of this section.
How Your Emotions Affect Others
As a parent, it’s normal to feel angry, irritated or frustrated at times. Managing your emotions does not mean you will never have these feelings.
What matters is that when directed at your child, these emotions can have a negative effect.
Select Each Button and Play Each Video to learn more about the effects and challenges of managing your emotions.
Being a parent can be both joyful and frustrating. A useful tool for helping you and your family manage your emotions is the Feeling Thermometer.
You can use the Feeling Thermometer to identify the situations connected to your different feelings, and strategies to get “cooled down” to a calmer feeling.
Select the Play Button to learn more about the Feeling Thermometer and how to use it.
Summary and Conclusion
There is no "right" way to help your child cope with their emotions. Everyone is different, and your family will need to find the strategies that work for all of you.
If you are unsure about how to help or talk with your child at any time, remember it’s always okay to get support from others.
If you teach your child(ren) how to handle difficult times now, they will know how to deal with the challenges that happen throughout life.
Feel free to download and use these Tip Sheets.