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Posts tagged ‘managing emotions’

An Age-By-Age Guide to Helping Kids Manage Emotions

SOURCE:  Sanya Pelini/Parent Co.

We are all born with emotions, but not all those emotions are pre-wired into our brains. Kids are born with emotional reactions such as crying, frustration, hunger, and pain. But they learn about other emotions as they grow older.

There is no general consensus about the emotions that are in-built verses those learned from emotional, social, and cultural contexts. It is widely accepted, however, that the eight primary in-built emotions are anger, sadness, fear, joy, interest, surprise, disgust, and shame. These are reflected in different variations. For instance, resentment and violence often stem from anger, and anxiety is often associated with fear.

Secondary emotions are always linked to these eight primary emotions and reflect our emotional reaction to specific feelings. These emotions are learned from our experiences. For example, a child who has been punished because of a meltdown might feel anxious the next time she gets angry. A child who has been ridiculed for expressing fear might feel shame the next time he gets scared.

In other words, how we react to our kids’ emotions has an impact on the development of their emotional intelligence.

Emotional invalidation prevents kids from learning how to manage their emotions. When we teach kids to identify their emotions, we give them a framework that helps explain how they feel, which makes it easier for them to deal with those emotions in a socially appropriate way.

The emotions children experience vary depending on age:


Infants are essentially guided by emotions pre-wired into their brains. For instance, toddler cries are usually an attempt to avoid unpleasant stimuli or to move towards pleasant stimuli (food, touch, hugs).

Evidence suggests that, in the first six months, infants are capable of experiencing and responding to distress by adopting self-soothing behavior such as sucking. Other studies have found that toddlers develop self-regulation skills in infancy and are able to approach or avoid situations depending on their emotional impact.

How you can help

A recent study suggests that “listening to recordings of play songs can maintain six- to nine-month-old infants in a relatively contented or neutral state considerably longer than recordings of infant-directed or adult-directed speech.”

The study explains that multimodal singing is more effective than maternal speech for calming highly aroused 10-month-old infants. It also suggests that play songs (“The Wheels on the Bus” for instance) are more effective than lullabies at reducing distress.


By the time they turn one, infants gain an awareness that parents can help them regulate their emotions.

As they grow out of the infancy stage, toddlers begin to understand that certain emotions are associated with certain situations. A number of studies suggest that fear is the most difficult emotion for toddlers. At this age, parents can begin using age-appropriate approaches to talk to kids about emotions and encourage them to name those emotions.

By the time they turn two, kids are able to adopt strategies to deal with difficult emotions. For instance, they are able to distance themselves from the things that upset them.

How you can help

Situation selection, modification, and distraction are the best strategies to help kids deal with anger and fear at this age, according to one study. In other words, helping toddlers avoid distressing situations or distracting them from those situations is one of the most effective emotion-regulation strategies.

As they grow older, toddlers can be taught to handle those situations by themselves. Indeed, they are capable of understanding different emotions and of learning different self-regulation methods that can help them deal with difficult situations. Providing toddlers with an appropriate framework can help them learn how to manage those emotions by themselves.

Naming emotions also helps toddlers learn that emotions are normal. Every day opportunities provide occasions to talk to kids about emotions: “He sure looks angry.” “Why do you think he looks so sad?”

Toddlers also learn about managing their emotions by watching us.


Kids experience many emotions during the childhood years. Many secondary emotions come into play at this age as a child’s emotions are either validated or invalidated, influencing future emotional reactions.

Children are able to understand and differentiate appropriate from inappropriate emotional expressions, but they still find it hard to express their emotions, especially if they haven’t learned to identify and name them.

How you can help

Emotion regulation is not just about expressing emotions in a socially appropriate manner. It is a three-phase process that involves teaching children to identify emotions, helping them identify what triggers those emotions, and teaching them to manage those emotions by themselves. When we teach kids that their emotions are valid, we help them view what they feel as normal and manageable.

Modeling appropriate behavior is also important during the childhood years. The best way to teach your child to react to anger appropriately is to show her how. Evidence suggests that kids pick up our emotions, and that those exposed to many negative emotions are more likely to struggle.

Ultimately, helping kids manage their emotions begins by validating those emotions and providing an environment in which they feel safe to express them. As several studies have shown, kids who feel safe are more likely to develop and use appropriate emotion regulation skills to deal with difficult feelings.


Marriage Q&A: Is Hitting Someone Ever Justified?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Is Hitting Someone Ever Justified?

Question:  Is physical abuse ever justified in a marriage as “defending” yourself?

I attacked my husband physically in frustration by hitting and scratching. I know it was sinful and wrong and I made a choice to attack him.

He, in turn, held me down, punched me in the head several times and smashed my head up against the headboard of our bed.

He said he did it to “defend” himself and to “get me to stop”.

Answer:  Self-defense is legally acceptable when you are being physical harmed, however it seemed like your husband used a bazooka against you when a fly swatter may have been sufficient.  In other words, from your description of his behavior your husband took it over the top and did more than defend, he retaliated and abused you.

But I want to ask you a question. If your husband attacked you by hitting and scratching you because he was frustrated with something you did or said would that be justified?  Just because you are a woman and may not have as much physical strength as he does, does not excuse you handling your frustration with him by attacking him and scratching him.  What else could you have done in that moment of frustration?

The truth is marriage and family life can be frustrating at times. Who hasn’t gotten frustrated in marriage? Or in raising children?  Or while stuck in traffic?  Or waiting in a long line?  If frustration excused abusive behavior we’d live in a much more violent world than we already live in.

So what do healthy people do when they are frustrated? When they are provoked? They learn to press pause, and practice self-control, which is one of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  Yes we may feel like reacting with physical force – such as slapping or scratching someone when we’re frustrated, but if we want good relationships with people, we learn to control those urges.

It’s important to realize that we are not helpless victims over our own emotional state. Yes, we have feelings, but we must not allow our feelings to have us.  God has clearly told us that we are to be in charge of how we behave when we’re provoked or angry.

In Ephesians he says “In your anger, do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26).

If I were talking further with you and/or your spouse about your marriage I would ask you about the overall patterns of your marriage.  Have there been regular incidents of you reacting with physical attacks when you are frustrated or was this an isolated incident?  If this has been a pattern, have you recognized it as a problem for you?  For your marriage?

Has your spouse asked you to stop, get help for your emotional distress, or go to counseling?  Does he purposefully provoke you to the point of emotional overload? Has he used physical violence against you in the past?  If so have you implemented consequences like calling the police?

I hope you will take this incident as a warning bell to show you how close you are to the edge of a very scary cliff.  Your inability to know what else to do in the moments of your frustration and your husband’s over-the-top reaction could have ended with you being pummeled to death.  Please, don’t ignore this. Seek more professional advice about what your next steps should be for your own mental health, physical safety and marriage.

Managing Emotions in the Midst of Disagreement

SOURCE:  Tim Muehlhoff/Family Life

The goal of a balanced communicator is to properly manage and express both thoughts and emotions.

Many of us believe that the worst thing we can do during a disagreement is to become emotional. Emotions are unpredictable, we think, and they’ll undermine our ability to discuss an issue objectively and dispassionately; therefore we need to suppress our emotions or ignore them while seeking to resolve a disagreement.

This view has many flaws. First it’s simply not possible.

The goal of a balanced communicator is to properly manage and express both thoughts and emotions.

When the apostle Paul encourages Christians at Ephesus to pursue Christ, he doesn’t pray merely that their intellect or rationale would be enlightened by God. Rather, he prays that the “eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18). In Hebrew the word “heart” means all of an individual—intellect, emotions, body, and will. God wants all of our selves to be engaged in our pursuit of Him.

The same is true when we approach conflict.

To deny or push aside our emotions is to enter into a conversation only partially. The surest way to inflame another person’s emotion is to belittle or ignore it. Expressing and acknowledging emotions correctly is foundational to healthy conversation.

Second, the problem with suppressing our emotions during a charged conversation is that in the process we may also suppress our motivation to resolve the conflict.

In his massive 500-page treatise On Religious Affections, the great Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards writes that the nature of human beings is to be inactive unless somehow motivated by a powerful feeling or affection. Feelings of hatred, love, passion, hopefulness, hopelessness and anger serve as a spring of action that propel us forward to duty and others. If we mistakenly suppress our emotions, we may also short-circuit the very mechanism that launches us toward resolution. Often within difficult conversations our emotions—desire to reconcile, address an injustice, resolve conflict, share Christ’s love—provide the spring of action that keeps us in the conversation.

Third, emotions are a powerful indicator that individuals still care about each other and the relationship.

I often tell my students that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. I don’t hate individuals I’m indifferent to or who do not matter to me. Why waste the emotional effort? My anger is more likely to arise in response to people who mean something to me—a boss, spouse, co-worker, child, or other close individual.

Last, the reason we don’t suppress or deny our emotions is that God didn’t suppress His while engaging with us. In the Scriptures we encounter a God who is unchanging, powerful, holy, and emotional.

Preparing to engage

When the time comes to engage another person in a difficult conversation, what are the steps we can take to identify and express emotions? The following are some suggestions.

Take a read of your current emotional state. We’re all susceptible to having our emotions get the better of us. Foundational to expressing emotions effectively is recognizing the feelings we’re experiencing before the conversation even starts. I say “feelings” because in most situations we experience multiple emotions.

The first step in assessing your emotional state is to give words to your feelings. The difficulty is that many of us have poor emotional vocabularies. If we are angry, we simply say, “I’m mad!”

When I counsel couples I ask them to provide at least three distinct descriptors for a single emotion. If a person tells me he or she is discouraged about the relationship, I ask him or her to provide additional words. There is a significant difference between feeling disheartened and feeling disappointed. A person can feel good about the overall relationship but still feel disappointed about one particular aspect. Conversely, a person who is disheartened may view the entire relationship as hopeless. The key is to reflect on and clarify your emotional state.

Use fractionation. This odd-sounding technique is a staple for experts at the Harvard Negotiation Project and is considered the most effective way of reducing the intensity of emotion during conflict. Fractionation is the process of breaking conflict down into smaller, more manageable portions. The idea is that the smaller the conflict, the less severe the emotion. For example, statements like, “I feel unappreciated in this relationship!” or “Our communication climate is lousy” are too broad and emotionally charged. How can these feelings be broken down into a more manageable size without trivializing them?

The key is to use the simple x-y-z formula: when you do x, in situation y, I feel z. For example, a coworker feels that you are not respecting his religion and has grown increasingly defensive. Not respecting another person’s faith tradition is a serious issue, but it is too broad to negotiate. It may be helpful to ask, “What causes you to feel disrespected?” Your coworker responds, “When you ask me about my religion, you tend to only point out what’s wrong with it. You never try to find areas of agreement. So, what’s the point of even asking me about my faith?” Putting his concerns into the x-y-z formula would read like this: When you only find faults (x) when I am describing my faith (y) it makes me feel belittled and defensive (z). While this method doesn’t suggest a resolution, it helps both parties understand the source of the emotion.

After listening to your coworker’s complaint, you might summarize the difficulty as follows: “What seems to be causing our emotions to escalate is that you view my challenges to your faith as being disrespectful, rather than how I intend them, as healthy debate.” This formula can move individuals away from emotions to what scholars call this meta-communication—communication about our communication. For example, you could ask, “Would it be helpful if I didn’t interrupt while you’re describing aspects of your faith?” “Might it be more productive to start with areas of agreement rather than areas of disagreement?” “How can we structure our conversation so it comes across as healthy debate and not an attack that evokes strong emotions?”

The difference is the Holy Spirit

While these suggestions focused on managing emotions are valuable, they contain an inherent flaw. In order to clarify and manage emotions we need to be disciplined and aware of our fluctuating emotional state. Success is determined by our emotional intelligence and skill.

The apostle Paul takes a fundamentally different approach. When calling Christians in the church at Ephesus to put away powerful emotions such as rage, bitterness, and anger and to form healthy relationships, he didn’t tell them to work harder. Rather, he encouraged them to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). What sets apart Christian communicators is their reliance on a spiritual power outside of them.


Taken from I Beg to Differ by Tim Muehlhoff. Copyright © 2014 by Tim Muehlhoff. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. 


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