Parenting a Child with Intense Emotions: A Relational Perspective
Parenting a child who feels intense emotions can be a challenge. It’s normal for children to experience a wide range of emotions, from fear and embarrassment to anxiety and joy. As parents, it’s crucial to help our children learn how to manage these emotions in healthy ways. By teaching emotional intelligence, we can help them understand their feelings and respond appropriately in various situations. This blog explores the RULER approach developed by psychologist Marc Brackett, alongside practical tips for understanding and responding to your toddler’s emotions from a relational perspective.
The RULER Approach to Emotional Intelligence
The RULER approach is a helpful framework for parents seeking to teach their children emotional intelligence. It stands for:
- Regulating emotions
By using this approach, parents can guide their children through the process of identifying emotions, understanding their source, accurately labeling them, expressing them, and regulating responses.
As parents we can model healthy emotional behaviour by expressing a full range of emotions themselves and taking a “meta-moment” when emotions are high. This involves taking a deep breath, asking yourself how your “best self” would respond, and then acting accordingly.
What is a Meta-Moment?
As we all know, our best attempts at calm, thoughtful reflection work only when we feel in control of our emotions. If you’re seething with resentment or crushed by disappointment, you’re probably not capable of the reasoning required to see a situation in a new light. You first need to bring down your emotional temperature, lower your activation, and give yourself the space required for rational thought. Taking deep breaths, stepping back, or going for a walk can help.
A Meta-Moment is when we stop and pause to regulate our emotions. It means mentally counting or taking deep breaths to give ourselves room to manoeuvre and deactivate. Visualising our best selves can redirect our attention away from what triggered us. The Meta-Moment helps us refrain from reacting impulsively. Taking a Meta-Moment activates our parasympathetic nervous system, reduces stress hormones, and naturally lowers our emotional temperature. Practising mindfulness and doing things we enjoy builds up cognitive reserves to help us regulate our emotions when we face challenges. Along with trying again, we need permission to fail and the courage to apologise and forgive ourselves. The payoff for developing emotional regulation skills is worth it – better health, decision-making, and relationships.
Tips for Understanding and Responding to Your Toddler’s Intense Emotions
- Describe your toddler’s feelings: When you notice your toddler experiencing an emotion, describe it out loud to help them understand their feelings and learn the vocabulary to express them.
- Label positive feelings: Acknowledge and praise your toddler’s positive emotions to reinforce their understanding and the importance of expressing happiness and pride.
- Point out coping strategies: When your toddler is struggling with negative emotions, help them identify the coping strategies they are using and praise their efforts.
- Praise self-regulation skills: Encourage your toddler’s self-regulation skills by praising their ability to stay calm, be patient, or use words to express their emotions.
- Offer support and space: When your toddler is feeling overwhelmed or upset, offer comfort, like a hug, but also recognise when they need space to calm down.
- Model language: Help your toddler learn to express their needs and emotions by providing examples of how to ask for things or express their feelings verbally.
- Teach self-soothing techniques: Encourage your toddler to use self-soothing items, like a special stuffed animal, or blanket to comfort themselves when they feel upset or overwhelmed.
- Encourage calm behaviour: Praise and encourage your toddler when they remain calm in frustrating situations, reinforcing the importance of self-regulation.
- Provide comfort: Offer comfort and reassurance when your toddler is hurt or frightened, making sure to stay calm yourself to provide extra support.
- Sensory First Aid: If your child has sensory processing issues a Sensory first aid kit can be really beneficial.
Critiques of the RULER Approach
Mark Brackett’s RULER approach has received widespread acclaim for its effectiveness in promoting emotional intelligence in schools and workplaces. However, like any method, there are some critiques of the RULER approach that are worth considering.
One critique is that the RULER approach places a significant emphasis on individual responsibility for emotional regulation and neglects the role of social and structural factors in shaping emotions. Critics argue that a sole focus on individual responsibility can obscure the impact of social and structural factors such as poverty, discrimination, and marginalisation on emotional well-being. Therefore, some argue that the RULER approach needs to be complemented with a broader approach that addresses systemic issues that contribute to emotional distress.
Another critique of the RULER approach is that it can be overly prescriptive and rigid in its approach to emotional regulation. Critics argue that the RULER approach may not be suitable for all individuals as it assumes a one-size-fits-all approach to emotional regulation. Therefore, some argue that the RULER approach needs to be more flexible and adaptable to the unique emotional needs of individuals.