For us Midwesterners, severe weather warnings are just part of the landscape. You can be enjoying yourself at your local lake in the golden sunshine, and all of a sudden the weather sirens are going off, and when you grab the kids and run to the parking lot on the other side of the hill, the sky on that side is dark and the trees are lashing back and forth and you yell “Go, go, go!” as you whip everyone in the car and make the judgment call that you can get home to your cozy basement before the hail strikes or the tornado obliterates the entire above-ground portion of your house.
I’m pretty good with those atmospheric-type storms. What I’m not so good at is the emotional storms. If you have a toddler or a teenager, or if you just have “that kid,” you probably know what I’m talking about. You can just be going along, having a nice sunny day, when suddenly out of nowhere . . . emotional storm alert! Your kid comes in the room and starts broadcasting severe emotions on all frequencies, whipping up into hysteria.
I am NOT good at handling this. To me it feels like an emotional assault, with my whole body jangling like I had two double espressos. I’m the kind of parent who yells, “You have to calm down!!!!” (Irony Alert . . .) Sometimes, though, I actually manage it to handle it better. Here are a couple of things that can help.
Remember that kids are prone to emotional storms. They just are, especially at ages where they are really growing a lot, like preschool and adolescence. Try to let it roll over you as much as you can. It will pass just like the weather. You can remind your kid of this too. Sometimes our perception of life is skewed and we can’t even tell we’re not thinking clearly. But more than likely in an hour or tomorrow we will feel much better.
Don’t try to reason or solve problems during emotional storms. Like a Vulcan, I often try to wield Logic to fight Emotion, but problem-solving during an emotional storm is completely useless. If your kid isn’t responding to your calming attempts, you both might need to just be alone for a while to pull yourselves together. Analyze it later if there is actually a problem to solve.
Go back to basics of self-care. It’s pretty obvious to us when a toddler loses it because they’re hungry or overtired. This is true for adolescents (and adults) too. Is your kid hydrated? Have they eaten in the past three hours? Had a shower today? Stretched their legs or moved to music? Have they over-exerted themselves and need a break? Help your kid remember they’re human and teach them these basic self-care tools.
Teach self-compassion. I think it’s good to teach kids, especially teens, that’s ok to have even strong emotions and that they can handle them. A recent study at Berkeley found that doing a loving-kindness meditation helped teens be significantly less stressed. Here is the one that they used: http://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/loving_kindness_meditation.
Don’t forget to give yourself some loving-kindness too if your kids’ emotional storms are tough for you. Like the Midwest weather, the one thing you can count on is that if you don’t like your kid’s emotional weather, it will change. That at least is some comfort to make it through the high winds and hail.