Emotions are confusing especially when you don’t have a good grasp of how to understand or handle them. Especially when you throw in a divorce. For kids this is exceptionally difficult because they are just a few years into learning about themselves in general. For instance, sadness and anger may present similarly as a tantrum, and it is tough to know how to dissect the feelings that actually lead to the fit of frustration.
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After my divorce, I was a basketcase of emotions. I couldn’t predict how I would feel from one day to the next. I felt out of control and unsure of who I was. It was then that I hired help to learn how to move through this emotional mess and recover. I did a 3 month long intensive, and became a student of myself. Now this is what I’m teaching my children.
So much shifts and changes for children when their parents divorce that it’s tough for them to make sense of what’s swirling inside of them. They need guidance on how to move through their thoughts and feelings. Emotions are just energy in motion. That energy MUST go somewhere. If it doesn’t, if it gets ignored or stuffed down, it will most certainly fester into something greater and more troubling.
My children have personally processed sadness, anger, and confusion. And it’s never linear healing. We revisit emotions. The key is to acknowledge what it is and give it space to move through your kids system in a healthy manner.
Our greatest obstacle recently has been separation anxiety. It makes sense. My son has connected the feeling of separation to loss and being all alone. Even before the divorce, he didn’t really enjoy being alone, but now this feeling is much deeper. It can be tough to navigate this as a parent. I firmly believe in listening and understanding a child’s thoughts and feelings. It is very important that they don’t feel shame around the experience. I don’t want my son to think he shouldn’t feel a certain way or that his feelings don’t matter. I’ve experienced this as an adult and realized this is a fast track to losing touch with myself.
Instead, I teach my kids to use these emotions as clues to what’s going on inside of them. I ask them, “What story are you telling yourself?” This question usually brings a lot of insights to their inner world. I will give them an outlet to process this emotion whether the story they are telling themselves is true or not. Here are a few things we have tried. I share this as another mom speaking to moms. Please keep in mind that I am not a licensed professional, so please seek professional help if you need it.
- Crying – This is one of the best ways to release emotions. It’s SO important to normalize this for a healthy wellbeing especially for little boys. Our culture has not been supportive for males in this way, and this must change. I believe this is one way we can help with that shift as parents.
- Yelling into a pillow – Using our voice to move emotions out of the body is another great outlet especially if the emotion is anger, sadness, grief, frustration, stress, disappointment, fear or overwhelm. My kids have felt the relief from doing this exercise many times, and now they just do this on their own.
- Punch a pillow – This is actually really helpful when siblings get caught up fighting because they are irritated with one another. It’s incredibly powerful when kids are allowed space to feel and move through their frustrations in a safe way. Once they punch out their anger and move through it, they become free to be present more in themselves with more grace for the situation.
- Self talk – Learning to have a healthy relationship with the voice in our head that spews negative thoughts is a lifelong human experience. Teaching our kids how to hear this voice from a place of neutrality is vital. We can help them recognize that this voice is not actually who we are. This allows them to disconnect from the negative self-talk much more easily. I usually walk my kids through questions like this:
- What is the voice saying?
- Why is it telling you that?
- How does that make you feel?
- Is it true? If they say yes, I ask it again to see if it’s actually a truth.
- If this thought in your head isn’t true, then can you tell me what is actually true? This is helpful for remembering truths like – I am loved, I am wanted, I am accepted, etc.
Just as kids grow overtime into understanding the physical difference between hunger pain and a gassy belly pain. Children can learn how to identify and process their emotions and thoughts. In a world that is struggling with mental health, I can’t think of a better way to start raising up the next generation. Teaching them how to process and grow through their experiences is vital for creating mentally and emotionally strong children.