Friday, 15 July 2016 15:17

How to Help Your Children Process Uncomfortable Feelings

By Meghan Lemery Fritz-LCSW-R | Your Home
One of the most important things we can teach children is how to process feelings in a healthy way. Often times if you were raised in a home that avoided any discussion of feelings or you grew up with a parent that was constantly ruled by anxiety and overwhelmed, chances are you too are uncomfortable dealing with anxiety and uncomfortable feelings. How you help kids navigate uncomfortable feelings can set the stage to promote feelings of security and confidence vs anxiety and fear. If your child begins to express anxiety do not respond passively with an answer that minimizes their feelings. For example, if your child says, “I am feeling anxious about making friends this school year, last year was horrible and I know this year is going to be the same.” A passive response would be: “Don’t worry about that! It’s going to be a great year, your classmates would be lucky to have you as a friend.” This passive response does not give your child the tools needed to learn how to process an uncomfortable feeling, feel heard, and be proactive about what action they can take to help them feel a sense of control in an anxiety provoking setting. The first step to helping your child express themselves honestly and feel heard is to validate their feelings. “I know last year was really tough. I’m sorry that was a difficult time for you. I am proud of you for getting through that time.” This validation lets them know three things, you hear what they are saying, you are present with them in the dialogue and you understand them. This not only lets your child know you are present, but it teaches them how to have an open dialogue about feelings in a healthy, non-avoidant way. Once you validate their feelings help them normalize the discomfort they are feeling. “I understand it’s anxiety provoking to start a new year. That is a very normal feeling to have. I feel that way after vacation when I have to go back to work. It’s normal to feel a little nervous. It’s part of being human.” This lets them know they are not alone in their feelings. You are helping to make the process of expressing and working through a feeling a normal event vs shutting them down or giving them a passive response that does not empower them in any way. Uncomfortable feelings can make all of us feel alone and want to isolate, normalizing the feelings helps to build their esteem, not shake it. The next step is to begin the proactive process of problem solving and brainstorming solutions. Help them come up with concrete ways to work through the discomfort. “Last year I know you felt very alone and had a hard time connecting with your peers. Let’s make a list together of some things you are interested in this year that could help you broaden your social circle.” Let them identify concrete ways they can participate in their goal to make more friends. One of the quickest ways to shut an open dialogue down with your child is to give them a lecture on all the ways they can solve the problem. Take a step back and let them come up with a few ideas before you jump in and offer suggestions. This helps empower your child in the problem solving process and builds their confidence. When you offer them the solution immediately you miss out on an opportunity to help them become more comfortable with discomfort. Once you identify some proactive strategies, keep the conversation open by asking if there is anything else they feel worried about. Also ask them what you can do differently this year to help them get through difficult times. Ask direct questions so that they can be honest with you about what you may need to change. “Is there anything you would like me to change this year that wasn’t helpful to you last year?” “When you have a bad day what do you need from me. Do you find it most helpful for me to give you some space or give you a hug?” This teaches your children to learn how to express what they need. We are all different in times of stress but the key to coping during these times is to have a sense of what works for us. For some it’s exercise, talking it out with someone, retreating to a quiet place, or blowing off some steam. Don’t make the assumption that your child needs a hug when they may just need to take a time out. Ask them! This teaches them solid communication skills in all relationships and develops trust between the two of you. You are showing your child that you trust them to communicate what they need from you and that you respect what they need. Validate, normalize, be proactive and ask some direct questions about what you can do to help, and more importantly, find out what is NOT helpful. Stay calm and open in the dialogue even if you start to feel uncomfortable yourself. Your calm, open demeanor lets them know you are not afraid to talk about uncomfortable feelings. This approach to dealing with anxiety and uncomfortable feelings will help strengthen the bond you have with your child and teach them how to work through uncomfortable feelings. It will also teach them how to dialogue in their own relationships with peers and eventually romantic relationships. Feeling anxious, nervous and uncomfortable is a part of everyday life whether you are a child or an adult- teach your children to be comfortable in the discomfort and watch them grow in their confidence and ability to problem solve. Give them the skills they need to grow into healthy young adults who won’t avoid uncomfortable feelings. I work with so many adults who are paralyzed by uncomfortable feelings and were not taught how to process feelings in a healthy way. Don’t pass on the dysfunction you grew up in, get the help you need and begin to model for your family how to process uncomfortable feelings and emotions, YOU ARE WORTH IT! Meghan Fritz is a psychotherapist practicing in State College, PA. For more information email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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