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When Emotions Become Beach Balls: Ways for Adults to Intervene: Part 1

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

Methods of how adults can approach contagious emotions in our homes, offices, and schools without losing (too much) of our sanity

Can you and your family relate to this picture?

We've all been there. Your kids are yelling at each other in the car, and you can feel your blood beginning to boil. You have a family in your counseling office, and everyone is sitting, arms crossed, unable to look at each other or continue the conversation. No matter where we are, emotions are contagious.

Just sitting here writing this, I feel calm and regulated. But when my own kids are involved, there are times where I can't help but hit that beach ball of emotion right back where it came from. I don't know about you, but in these heated moments, most people want simple skills to calm down a complex and messy situation.

This is why I love what I do. I've helped many families begin taking steps towards slowing down the emotion contagion, and equipped adults with key skills to feel more confident in these moments.

If you'd like a simple set of skills to begin feeling more confident as an adult in the room with 'big emotions,' then start with this first one. --Side Note-- If you follow me on social media, these skills will likely look familiar :)

Tip #1 - Choose to view the child/teen's behavior as communicating a need instead of an attempt to press our buttons.

We all have our hot buttons. Let's imagine you grabbed your phone, and wrote in a note what happened every time a moment escalated with children, teens, and their emotions. What entries make you most irritated?

  • "My 8-year-old threw the remote on the floor because I let him know it's time for bed and it broke."

  • "My 15-year-old got in trouble at school again for skipping class."

  • "A family I was seeing in my office got into a yelling match, and I froze."

  • "A student I was working with this morning threw his book across the room and hit another student."

  • "My daughter just cursed in public, and I feel like a failure."

  • "My son got caught vaping again, and I feel helpless."

  • "My 5-year-old just gave me attitude (again) and yelled at me in front of 20 people in public."

This list could go on, and on, and on! We all have things that really press our buttons as adults. We WANT to be these mature, regulated, calm people during these moments, but there are just certain things that for some reason really get to us.

As I've learned more about this, and coached many people through these moments, I've stumbled across a really important nugget: One adult's hot buttons are not the same as another's. We all have specific things that bring us from zero to sixty.

I'll discuss this more in a future post, so I'll keep it short and sweet: Our hot buttons make sense; we all have unique stories, scars, and attachments. Therefore, we all have unique hot buttons. If you want to learn more about making sense of your hot buttons, subscribe below so you don't miss it!

Getting back to the first tip-- The very first way we as adults can begin to intervene in a situation that is escalating is to attempt to shift our perspective. When kids engage in these behaviors or have these 'big emotions,' it can be really difficult to feel compassion for them. Especially in that moment.

However, what we have to remember (and what I personally am trying to remind myself constantly about my own kids) is that they are still developing. Their brains are still growing the ability to regulate their emotions, make good decisions, and use problem solving skills.

In light of this, a great initial step to take towards offering regulation to children/teens is to try and shift how we view their behaviors in the first place. We might ask ourselves: In these challenging moments, how am I choosing to view this child or teen's behavior?

As I've mentioned, many of us at times (often without realizing it!) perceive these behaviors as attempts to press our buttons. What if instead of this, we were curious about what the child or teen is lacking in these moments?

Here's the perspective shift (and the first tip in a nutshell):

"All behavior is some form of communication." – Dr. Becky Bailey, founder of Conscious Discipline

As adults, when confusing, overwhelming, and difficult behaviors pop up in front of us from a young person, the first step we can take is to ask, 'What need is this behavior communicating to me?'

Here's a few examples:

  • "My 8-year-old threw the remote on the floor because I let him know it's time for bed and it broke." ---> 'I wonder if he is disappointed, tired, or is having a difficult time not being able to make decisions for himself after being in school all day?'

  • "My son got caught vaping and I feel hopeless." ---> 'I'm curious if my son is having a difficult time finding healthy coping skills. I wonder what's been stressful for him recently.'

  • "My five-year-old just gave me attitude (again) and yelled at me in front of 20 people in public.' ---> 'Wow, she must be really frustrated; maybe she needs more skills on how to communicate what she needs?'

Now, when I bring up these examples, I acknowledge how it is never this simple. One simple perspective shift, or attempting to 'think differently' about how I work with children/teens is not a magic bullet.

That being said, it is a wonderful start. If we as adults can begin to be curious about what the behavior flying at us is communicating, then we already are putting ourselves in a position to change the interaction in a positive way.

Okay, great. Now what can I do next?

If you're anything like me, you want action steps. You want things you can DO to begin to see results. If that's you, and you're reading this, I see you. I promise, there's more to come, and there is more you can do.

If you'd like to connect with me directly about getting a handle on these 'big emotions' of the children/teens you work with, I'd love to connect. Feel free to schedule an appointment with me here.

You can also subscribe to my Relationships Newsletter here to receive more blogs like this one in your inbox, and for more upcoming events I'm planning.

Either way, I am thankful to be on this journey with you. It takes a lot of guts, humility, and an elephant-sized amount of patience to work with young people in any capacity. If you feel like no matter what you try, nothing will change, or nothing will get better, you aren't alone.

Looking forward to connecting with you soon!


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