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Helping your Grandkids Identify and Manage Their Emotions

We’ve all been there. Your three-year-old grandson has a melt-down in the middle of the grocery check-out line or you become beyond exasperated when your eldest grandchild clobbers your youngest for no apparent reason.

Feelings. They push us to our limits. They’re big and at times seem to come out of nowhere. We realize we have difficulty managing our own emotions, so it’s easy to understand when out grandchildren have the same problem.

Here are some strategies to help your grandchildren first identify their feelings, and then learn to manage them in acceptable ways.

  • Name the emotions

It can be difficult for young children to understand what happens when they explode with emotions. They may not have the language to identify their feelings, they only know it’s big and has overcome them. It’s helpful to clearly name feelings as they arise when in your care. You can say, “I see that it makes you angry when your brother knocks down your block tower.”

Another strategy is to find a simple feeling chart with visuals to help your grandchildren when they’re feeling happy, excited, sad, or angry. These are easily found online. Then you can periodically ask, “How are you feeling? Show me on the chart.”

  • Model expressing your feelings appropriately

Make it a habit to tell your grandchildren how you’re feeling. Model appropriate ways to say you’re upset or frustrated. You might say, “I’m feeling sad that we need to pick your brother up from school and you aren’t ready to go.” Or, “It makes me very happy when you eat all your lunch.”

If you happen to have a bad day when caring for your grandchildren, you can own your part in the problem. Grandma got very frustrated today and became angry. I’m sorry I raised my voice. Let’s have a better day tomorrow.” Children will be quick to forgive when you’re honest about your less-than-perfect day. They’ll learn that managing emotions is a human problem.

  • Replay a situation

Sometimes it helps to replay a situation that went wrong to untangle and name the emotions involved. For instance, “It was time to brush teeth, but you didn’t come when I asked you to. Then I felt angry.” Or, “When Julie took your toy you became angry and you hit her. In Grandma’s house we don’t hit, so what else could you have done?”

You can also take the opportunity to play back a situation you’ve observed when out in public. You might say, “Did you see what happened when that little boy cried at the park today? He wanted a turn on the slide, but the bigger boy wouldn’t let him. How do you think the little boy was feeling?” At that point you may have to help your grandchild identify feelings such as angry, frustrated or scared. Then you can ask, “What could that little boy have done besides cry? Could he have asked a grown-up for help? Waited longer for a turn? Gone to play on another piece of equipment?”

  • Use Simple Cues

Sometimes using simple cues such as “Take a breath,” or “Slow down,” help a child to self-manage strong emotions. This may take some role-playing before the child is able to actually apply the strategy in the midst of a tough situation.

A self-imposed time out or a soothing activity such as water play can also smooth out strong feelings.

  • Be Proactive

Wise grandparents create teachable moments when caring for their grandchildren. They notice behaviors and give praise when good things happen. They verbalize their own feelings to help their grandchildren understand the wide range of feelings that we humans experience. They might say, “Wow, you really showed a lot of patience with Robby today when he said mean words.” Or, “I’m so excited you have a ball game this weekend. Grandpa and I can’t wait to watch you play.”

Read-aloud times are wonderful opportunities to notice emotions shown by characters in your favorite books. “Hmm, I wonder how Cinderella was feeling when the step-sisters wouldn’t let her go to the ball.”

Your grandkids will learn a great deal by watching you as you show kindness and caring to others. “Let’s take some cookies over to Mrs. Adams. She gets lonely sometimes.”

Managing emotions is a big task and isn’t learned in a day. Grandparents can take a leading role in helping our grandchildren to understand and manage their strong feelings in healthy, appropriate ways.

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