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The Best Thing a Parent Can do for a Highly Emotional Child.

The Best Thing a Parent Can do for a Highly Emotional Child.

As a therapist I see many kids and teens who experience extreme emotions. Some have mental health conditions such as depression or another mood disorder, and some do not. In either case, many parents want to know, “What causes my child to feel so sad, lonely, depleted, apathetic, or angry?!” and some parents even go on to add, “I give her everything. She has a great life. There is no reason for her to feel this way.” (Yes, the “I give her everything” statement is the one I hear most often.)

The Possible 3 Causes of Mood Disturbances

Questions like the previously mentioned are my cue to meet that parent’s fears and pain by gently explaining some of the theories of the causes of mood disturbances. Basically, there are lots of fancy names for the theories, but the causes are typically a number of the following factors working in combination:

1. Biological factors: neurotransmitters, hormones, neurological differences, etc

2. Environmental stresses: Hopeless, painful, overwhelming, and lonely scenarios and an invalidating environment

3. Individual temperament: the child’s ways of thinking, threshold of tolerance for emotional discomfort, etc.

Nowhere in that explanation does it imply that a child’s depression is caused by its parents not giving it enough.

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I often see extreme emotions and/or mood disorders as being a result of a combination of all three of the causes listed above.

So how are each of these causes addressed? If necessary, a pediatric psychiatrist or family physician may address the biological components of extreme moods and behaviors. An individual therapist can work with the child to increase her personal distress tolerance and coping skills and shift her ways of thinking to be less problematic. And parents can work to address environmental factors. This is why parental consultation and often family therapy is very helpful for the child’s emotional well-being.

Creating a validating environment

But what is the most important thing that a parent can do for a highly emotional child?

The best way for parents to address environmental factors is to create what is called a “validating environment.” This means hearing and honoring the perspective of the child and who the child is even when the perspectives of the child are not pleasant, are hard to hear, or are inconsistent with what the parents want. In other words, letting the child know that her feelings are understandable, and that it’s okay to be yourself.

4 Examples of Invalidation vs. Validation

Some examples of validation vs. invalidation are as follows:

1. Invalidation: “Just relax. It’s not that bad.”

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Validation: “I can see how that would be upsetting.”

2. Invalidation: “You didn’t really mean that.”

Validation: “Tell me more about that.”

3. Invalidation: “Stop getting so angry.”

Validation: “It’s okay to feel angry, and I can see why you’d be angry, but it’s not okay to hit the wall.”

4. Invalidation: “How could you be so selfish!?”

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Validation: “I could see how you would be compelled to do that, but we need to talk about a way to make everyone happy, not just you.”

3 Reasons Why Invalidation arises

Often barriers which prevent validating environments occur because of one of these 3 reasons:

1. Parents really don’t relate to their child being so upset.

They legitimately cannot understand why or how a child could be so emotional, and commonly get annoyed or dismissive with the child’s feelings. In this case, it is sometimes helpful to think of your child as a “highly sensitive person” (See “The Highly Sensitive Child” by Elaine Aron) instead of flawed and problematic. Think about what it must be like to go through life as such a highly sensitive person and begin to appreciate your child for who it is.

2. Parents’ own anxieties are triggered when their child has difficult or extreme emotions.

Sometimes their anger or fears of inadequacy are triggered when they are unable to “cure” or “change” their child, so they try to talk the child out of their feelings, deny the reality of the child’s perspective, or ignore the child’s feelings.

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3. The parents’ sense of “right and wrong” conflict with who the child is.

Sometimes parents have learned that some very basic and healthy aspects of human nature are “wrong.” Often a child’s anger or sadness or pride or selfish impulse is seen with invalidation or disgust instead of being seen as natural and making sense given the situation and human nature. Kids in shame-filled, overly-controlled, or strictly dogmatic environments are often given messages that their anger, emptiness, unhappiness, sadness, sexuality, or pride are “wrong”.

So why am I making such a big deal about the importance of creating a validating environment for a kid? Because one in five kids are estimated to be highly sensitive, and emotional sensitivity plus invalidating environment is the perfect recipe for a child to end up on my therapy couch. And in a weird way, less business for me is a good thing for the world.

For more information on the importance of validating children, check out the book “The Power of Validation” by Karyn D. Hall.

Featured photo credit: grietgriet via mrg.bz

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Last Updated on January 14, 2019

7 Ways To Make Exercise Fun For Everyone

7 Ways To Make Exercise Fun For Everyone

From Atkins to Paleo to eating gluten-free despite not being one of the rare few people afflicted with celiac disease, fad diets are everywhere. It drives me crazy because I believe these diets do more harm than good. Your body is made up of a variety of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals, and losing weight healthily isn’t possible when you fill your body with unnecessary synthetic plastics, sugars, and powders. There’s no easy button in life.

What you need to do is exercise, which isn’t very appealing to many people. Workouts take work, so there’s already a stigma involved in going to the gym. Starting a healthy workout regimen becomes easier when you make it fun. If you want to live long and prosper, get off the couch and try these methods to turn your workout into a playout.

1. Take the scenic route.

Walking is an easy way to transition to a healthy lifestyle, and it’s free. Not only do you burn calories (check out this calculator for how many calories you burn based on your weight), but you see the world in a different way. Hiking in nature is great if you have access to it, but don’t let living in an urban area deter you from walking.

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Whenever I’m creatively stuck I get my head straight by walking a couple of miles. It’s also how I discover new paths, meet new people, and stumble upon hole-in-the-wall spots I never would have found otherwise. You could drive past the same place every day and never appreciate the beauty, nor even notice it’s there.

2. Distract yourself.

No matter what exercise routine you choose, use the time to meditate. You may wonder how marathon runners are able to put so many miles on their bodies. It’s because the pain from running that you avoid is something they’ve learned to harness to enter a transcendental state. If you’re aware of the benefits of meditation and exercise but don’t have time to do both, you can combine them, killing two birds with one healthy stone.

3. Listen to music or podcasts.

There are few experiences in life more pleasurable than turning up the music and drowning out the world around you. With so many podcasts and music apps available on your smartphone, you can easily find entertainment options perfectly suited to your personal tastes. Never worry what people may think of you when working out;instead, crank up the volume and get lost in your own world. You’ll be in shape before you know it.

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4. Bring a friend.

Some people can’t go anywhere alone. While I highly recommend dining out and seeing a movie in a theater alone, having company while exercising is very helpful. It allows you to pace yourself with someone else, and gives you a coach to motivate and push harder than you may have on your own.

Many exercises are safer when done with a friend, and some sports can only be played with another person. Involving others in your goals can mean the difference between success and failure. Just remember to continue exercising if the other person flakes, or they’ll be in control of your health.

5. Accessorize.

There are accessories that can make exercise easier, and sometimes buying a new toy can add some much-needed fun to your routine. With apps like RunKeeper and Nike+, your smartphone is capable of tracking your vitals and progress. Wrist weights can add a new dimension to your workout, and, if you exercise at night, a headlamp can help you see what’s in front of you so you don’t trip.

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For urban runners and power-walkers, one of the biggest obstacles is other people. It’s difficult to get in your meditative zone and enjoy your music when you constantly have to dodge people. To resolve this vexing issue, Runbell, a startup in Tokyo, has developed the runner’s version of the bicycle bell. With this lightweight brass bell warning people you’re approaching from behind, you’re free to maintain your transcendental state while continuing your workout. Head to their Kickstarter campaign to pledge your support.

6. Compete.

A little healthy competition can motivate you to push yourself further in your workout regimen. There are apps like Zombies, Run! which turns your run into a video game, and MyFitnessPal which allows you to connect with others in the exercise community. Whether you’re directly competing with a friend, an online community, or against your previous self, setting goals is the key to reaching them. Running with no destination can feel like an impossible task, and it’s easy to get distracted.

7. Relax.

The best part about exercising is how much you enjoy the downtime. If you think laying on your couch all day is enjoyable, it has nothing on that hour you spend as a couch potato after a rigorous workout. Jay-Z said it best, “in order to experience joy, you need pain.” The harder you push yourself while exercising, the better you’ll feel when you’re relaxing.

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With that said, don’t relax too much, or it loses the effect. It’s okay to indulge every so often. Treat yourself to some junk food you’re craving, imbibe a drink here and there, and spend a day vegging out on your couch. Staying healthy doesn’t have to be torture. Just turn down when you can and dedicate some time to better the health of your body. You only get one.

Featured photo credit: tpsdave via pixabay.com

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