A March Message from the OCDSB’s Mental Health Team: Validating Emotions

We all experience moments where high-stress situations can make life feel out of control. In these moments, it may feel like our emotions are taking over, whether it be anger, sadness, frustration or worry. As parents, you may feel inclined to label these big emotions as “bad” or “negative” when your child expresses them. These strong emotions in our children can be uncomfortable, challenging to manage, and are sometimes accompanied by difficult behaviors. In these moments, it is important to remember that all emotions serve a purpose to provide us with information about ourselves and our environment, as well as to help us navigate difficult situations. 

Your children observe how you respond to big emotions and it helps them to make sense of their own feelings and determine how to respond when they are faced with big feelings. Working through emotions can be complicated and confusing for all of us, so remember to start from a place of compassion for yourself and your child.  While we will be exploring tips to manage big emotions, remember that as parents, we’re not always going to get this right and neither is our child. Sit back, take a deep breath and remember we are all doing the best we can.

Tune in & Identify emotions 

Tuning in and attempting to understand what your child is feeling is an important first step to helping them calm their mind and body. Due to their stage of brain development, children and teenagers often react first with emotion. In fact, when upset, they cannot access the thinking part of their brain needed to navigate challenging situations. 

As parents we may want to remove our children’s stressors and solve their problems, but it is important to make sure they get the opportunity to experience their emotions before jumping to problem solving. Ensuring your child feels heard and understood can help them build their emotional vocabulary and manage their emotional reactions. Your child may need support identifying the emotion they are experiencing. Being able to recognize and acknowledge what they are feeling can support your child’s sense of self-awareness, effective problem solving and consideration of new perspectives. Being able to recognize and acknowledge what they are feeling can support your child in learning how to tune into their emotions and help them to problem solve and build empathy skills.

Validate all emotions

We all experience uncomfortable emotions. While some emotions can be more challenging than others, your goal as a parent is to validate the full range of feelings. All emotions are expected and natural. By first acknowledging, then validating these emotions, you can support your child to feel understood and can help your child find healthy ways to react and respond in stressful situations. Validating what they feel, whether you agree with them or not is key to ensuring your child feels seen, heard and understood and will keep lines of communication open with your child for future conversations.

Practicing emotional regulation

No matter your age, it takes practice to calm your brain and body when faced with big emotions.  Your child will require your support to foster this skill through “co-regulation”. Co-regulation is an interactive process where you support your child through connection in moments when their emotions feel overwhelming. Through this process, you can coach and model healthy ways to remain calm in stressful situations by simply using a calm voice, tone and presence with your child. You may also choose to practice and role-play what your child can do to work through their feelings. Once you are both calm, you may be able to offer help to problem-solve how to manage difficult emotions in the future. Celebrate your child’s attempts or successes when using coping strategies to return to a calm state, remembering that this skill takes time and practice.

Remember, there is no perfect parenting. Some days you just need to be ‘good enough’. Take small steps to notice what is working,and embrace the small moments of joy and laughter. Most of all, be kind to yourself and to your child and reach out to others for support when needed. As parents, we are human too and we don’t have to do this alone.

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