Today (due to reasons known to me) I am experiencing an overload of anxiety.
I am not generally an anxious person, well at least I don’t think I am but the reality is I only just discovered what anxiety was a few years ago. Until then, I had all these weird feelings that I didn’t get. Sometimes I thought I was sick when I got an odd flutter or sharpness in my throat, I definitely thought I was sick when my stomach churned or I felt like I had to throw up. Other times I thought I might be experiencing frustration or something like that but I honestly didn’t know that most of the time I was feeling anxious.
I am grateful that we talk more about anxiety these days and through friends and family telling me about their experiences I was finally able to identify this particular emotion and in doing so, I was able to connect with that feeling and where it was coming from and what I could do right then and there to alleviate it and I am now feeling a lot luckier than some of those dear people who are still struggling to cope with it.
Why share that? I guess because it’s an example of the power of knowing and accepting your emotions. If at 30 I was only just able to name one of the most impactful ones then it’s also an example of how our society hasn’t well equipped us to understand emotions. I am glad to say that my children know what anxiety is and how to face it, which hopefully means it will stay a normal and valid emotion for them and won’t become something they struggle with.
Every one of our emotions is good and has its place. This is also something I learned late. Yet, again, it’s something it was such a relief to learn.
In the last few years I have been understanding and accepting emotions, not just for me but also for my children. I switched from distracting them from the “scary” or “bad” emotions to welcoming all emotions. I learned that accepting, validating and empathising with emotion actually helps relieve the pressure.
Children are born experiencing a full gambit of big feelings and (like their bodily functions) there doesn’t seem to be a baby-sized option. Particularly when it comes to newborns, it can be really hard for us to understand and accept. We are told a clean, healthy, well-fed and just slept baby should also be a happy one but babies also experience fear, uncertainty, disconnection, confusion and those may cause them to be momentarily sad or frustrated and when that happens, all they need is for us to listen to them. To connect through warm eye-contact and say “I hear you and I’ll keep you safe…”
Fast forward to toddlerhood and the dreaded tantrum… well, that’s no longer how I see it! I see it as a healthy “emotional release”. I am also aware that it won’t always feel like the right time and place but it helps to know that this is a toddler’s very age-appropriate, emotionally intelligent, healthy way of getting our their big feelings and the reason they often happen in public is because they are over-stimulated (by lights, toys, people, etc), often tired and/or hungry. Now I know not all of us are able to do this in public all the time (although it will always pay off if you can) so try and take them somewhere where you can come in with warm eye contact and empathise ie. “I know you wanted that toy and I said ‘no’.. it’s hard not to get what you want..” etc. There is more on managing public meltdowns here.
Basically, when children engage in those types of explosions they are actually doing good emotional work and it pays off over time. The releases will become shorter and less frequent and it actually has a positive impact on behaviour generally as most off-track behaviour is indicative of a full emotional backpack. So whilst your initial reaction to embracing these releases might be “Oh, please no!” you will soon see great results. Although, it is certainly harder to get older kids to understand this concept and they will push against your warm, loving connection when they are in “fight” mode so it DOES take a lot of patience to be able to stay close, connected and empathic. That’s where I recommend getting YOU some Listening Time.
Adults might call the empathic listening to emotional release “holding space” whereas Hand In Hand Parenting refer to it as “Staylistening” and I’ve provided more detail on how to do it here.
Let’s go back to my anxiety and how it felt when I didn’t know it was just part of my emotional repertoire. I felt scared which made me more anxious. I felt sick which made me more anxious. I felt worried. Now I connect with the feeling, noticing all the places it is in my body. I try and identify the cause and come up with solutions if there are any and then I take deep breaths. If there aren’t any immediate solutions I text or call my partner, family or a friend AND I get some Listening Time.
By listening to our children’s very normal big feelings, we empower them to understand their body’s processes, to feel their feelings when they can and to arm themselves in times when they can’t which leads to a stronger connection between you and your child, better emotional regulation and higher emotional intelligence. What more could you ask for?