Coping With Big Feelings

I was privileged to witness a mother-child connection during a time of distress. The child, Evie*, about 3 years old, was wailing because her mother had taken a beloved toy to hold while Evie put her coat on. Mother bent down, said she could see that Evie had some big feelings, and asked if she could use her words to name that feeling. Evie quieted. Mother asked if she was feeling worried that maybe she would not get her toy back. Evie nodded. Mother stated, I will give you your toy back; does that help the worry get smaller? Evie responded, “Yes!” Mother helped Evie put her coat on, gave the toy back, and picked her up. Evie smiled and snuggled with her mother.
This is a wonderful example of providing support and teaching emotional coping skills to a young child. What happened during this exchange?
• The child’s distress was recognized and acknowledged.
• A feelings vocabulary was being supported by naming the feeling of worry.
• The child experienced that mother was able to remain calm and handle the child’s big feelings, which was soothing to the child.
• An action plan was developed that related to resolving the feeling of worry.
• Mother and child were able to close the incident with affection.
What had the potential to be an example of disconnection (criticism or dismissal by mother, escalating distress by child) was transformed into an experience of attunement.

*Names and identifying information changed.

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