Change your expat life
Six Steps to Help TCKs Process Their Emotions
If you parent and are going through a transition, you might be wondering how best to help your children. As parents, we do not like to see our kids hurt and sad. It’s not a pleasant feeling, and when it happens, we naturally want to reassure them that all will be fine.
However, not every child will open up and tell you what is happening for them. I know this because it’s the case for one of my boys. He goes through his day seemingly fine, but the anxiety of our upcoming move creeps in in different ways despite the fact that he doesn’t really talk about it.
Here are 6 steps you can take to help your TCK make sense of what is happening for her or him during a time of transition.
1- Identify the thought and feeling
The first step is to help your TCK name their feeling. What most children learn at school is happy face, sad face, and angry face. But you can help them embrace their full humanness by adding nuance to what they feel and naming the emotion they experience. There is list of emotions you can download when you sign up for the newsletter.
2 – Acknowledge what your TCK is thinking and feeling
This step means acknowledging what your TCK is thinking and feeling without comparing it to your experience, what you’ve gone through, what happened during the last transition, what their big sister or brother is thinking or feeling, or all the great new adventures and friends they will meet in a few months. These are natural inclinations, but they are not helpful.
Just stay with your child in their story. It’s going to feel uncomfortable, and you will want to reassure the child and minimize the pain, but go where they are and stay there.
3 – Ask your TCK powerful questions and give them time to answer
Silence is gold. Asking powerful questions and then staying quiet will help your child become aware of what he or she is thinking and feeling.
You don’t have to make it better. You can acknowledge and simply help your child make sense of what he or she is thinking and feeling. Powerful questions might include something like, “When you think that you will never see your friends again, how do you feel?”
Be curious, and ask your child why they are thinking what they are thinking. Why are they feeling the way they do? You can continue to ask the same question until your child wants to stop.
4 – Use empathy, not sympathy
Saying “I’m sorry” is not creating connection, it is simply expressing sympathy. Try, instead: “I hear what you are saying, and saying goodbye to your friends really sucks.” This is empathy.
You are not outside when you come from a place of empathy. You are with your child. You are not trying to fix, diminish, or look at the bright side. You are just there with your child in that moment. This is what creates connection.
5 – Help your child allow and process their feeling
In order to help your child allow their emotion, you can ask them to describe the sensation in their body as if he or she were talking to a robot who has never ever felt an emotion. Ask your child:
Where is the emotion in your body?
- Is it hot or cold?
- Is it moving or standing still?
- Is it hollow or full?
- Is it bright or dull?
- Is it pulsating or radiating?
Teaching your child how to connect with their emotions and express how these emotions feel in their body is a magic wand you give them for life. It takes practice. To help, you might share with your child how sadness feels for you—just as if you were describing it to a robot: “For me, sadness feels like a mass in my throat that opens and closes like a frog throat. It moves slowly; it’s warm.”
You’ll see that when your child is able to describe the vibration and the emotion in their body, its intensity will diminish. When it comes back, you can help your child do the robot experiment again and once again describe what the emotions feel like in the body.
6 – Share that it’s not a problem to solve, it’s an emotion to allow.
Finally, help your child understand that when he or she thinks a certain way, it is normal to feel a certain way. Our thoughts are literally causing our feelings, which means that you can explain that sometimes we choose to think sad, anxious, or angry thoughts on purpose. This is part of the human experience. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s part of being human. You can explain to your child that when they feel sadness, for instance, it’s not a problem to solve but an emotion to allow.
When your TCK is in the midst of transition, they may choose to share their emotions or they might bottle them up. If you, too, have a child who struggles to express the feelings that come up for them around change, I hope these 6 steps help ease their process around sharing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
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