Is There a Drama King or Queen in Your House?
How to Respond Helpfully When Handling Children’s Negative Emotions, Feelings and Temper Tantrums
Pat is what most parents would call a Drama Queen or Drama King. Whenever something happens, Pat’s reaction is always over-the-top. It’s so that Pat’s parents feel a need to calm Pat down by saying, “Come on, it’s not that bad,” or “Don’t get so upset.” Over time, they just stop paying attention at all. None of these responses really “work.” In fact, Pat seems to escalate no matter what the parents do. So Pat’s parents have simply concluded this is just Pat’s personality and they must accept it.
If you have a child like Pat, it can be frustrating to be dealing with emotional outbursts and handling temper tantrums on a daily basis. If you think about yourself, however, consider what you want when you have a problem: Do you want a quick solution? Do you like to be left alone to figure it out for yourself? Do you like to talk it over with someone? If you do talk about it, do you want advice? Lectures? Analyzing? Probing questions? To be told you shouldn’t feel or do something?
When children have emotional outbursts, in nearly every way, just like adults in terms of what they want and need. They just have less experience at putting their feelings into perspective and expressing them appropriately. Here are some suggestions for helping children at different child development stages learn to process emotions and feelings in a way that will teach them how to resolve these feelings for themselves:
Try to keep two things in mind:
- Accepting and understanding feelings is different than agreeing with them. Children and adults alike have irrational thoughts and feelings. It’s never helpful to simply tell people they should feel or think differently. People can’t jump from point A to point C! We can, however, help them move through point A to point B so they can see point C is the next step they want to take.
- Feelings just are. They are not right or wrong. It is important for children to learn how to handle negative feelings because they are inevitable.
HELP CHILDREN WORK THROUGH THEIR EMOTIONS AND FEELINGS
- Give full attention with direct eye contact and a smile or nod. No one likes someone to listen to them halfway.
- Acknowledge what you hear with “Um-hmm?, Oh!” When people don’t want to talk, just simply let them know that you care and if they change their mind, you are there for them. Never push!
- Give wishes in fantasy, such as “I bet you wish we could stay here all day!” Most of the time, children just want to know that you understand how they feel. This helps them accept unpleasant limits. Children understand the difference between reality and fantasy better than we often think they will. (This is a four-star tool! Add humor and have fun with it!)
- Name the feeling and then put that feeling word in a sentence that connects with what happened. “It’s annoying when Johnny bothers you while you do your puzzle.” Children need to learn feelings words as much as they need to learn any other kind of word. To a child, if a feeling has a name it must mean it’s okay to feel it. This is reassuring, because negative emotions can be scary! To help children identify and name feeling words it may be helpful to use a cartoon faces emotion poster.
- Avoid journalistic questions like “Who?” “Where?” “When?” and especially “Why?” “Why” tends to put people on the defensive. Instead ask questions that focus on feelings rather than events.
It is not the parent’s job to figure the problem out and solve it for children. A parent’s job is to help children sort through their thoughts, feelings and emotions so they can figure out a solution to their own problem!
With older children, who are able to verbalize their feelings, use these tips to help de-escalate the situation and help them feel heard. Younger children are less able to verbalize their feelings and often act them out. For them, use these tips plus additional tips specifically for handling temper tantrums, because not all tantrums are alike (there are 4 types) and you want to respond helpfully, in a way that resolves the core issue the tantrum started.
Finally, remember that accepting feelings is different from allowing hurtful behavior or acting out those emotions. Tell children “It is okay to feel (feeling name), but it is not okay to (unacceptable behavior). Then brainstorm options for what the child can do if the situation happens again. This develops their problem solving skills. (Get a worksheet to use for problem solving exercises with children or adults!)
When children feel better, they act better. And when we accept our children’s feelings, they will feel more accepting of our limits, their own feelings, and will learn how to respect and listen to others. As a result, you will find you are spending less time handling temper tantrums.
Many times, these tools are all that is needed to help a child move on beyond negative feelings. Other times, an actual solution is needed. In extreme cases, where a child has a sensory processing disorder, you will want to do all the above, plus get more information to help you and your child better understand what to do.
If you want more insights, information and practical tools and tips for helping Drama Queens and Drama Kings better understand feelings and learn how to appropriately express their emotions, then check out these resources:
- Learn the Universal Blueprint® Effective Response Formula and get personalized support for applying it to the challenges you face.
- Listen to a one-hour recording of a live workshop called, “Children’s Menu: How to Really Listen to Your Child.” Click here for a description or to order.
Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is President of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. For 30+ years, Jody has trained tens thousands of parents and family professionals worldwide through her dynamic workshops and hundreds of interviews with the media worldwide, including Parents and Working Mother magazines. She is the author of the award-winning book The Parent’s Toolshop®, and countless multimedia resources that support and educate parents from diverse backgrounds, plus other adults who live or work with children. You can find them at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.com.
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