Being triggered by strong emotions is an inevitable part of life, but experiencing stress for prolonged periods of time is detrimental to health. When the human body experiences stress, it shifts into fight-or-flight mode, which floods the bloodstream with stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline.
Stress hormones are useful short-term in threatening situations because they mobilize you quickly. However, remaining in this state long-term has negative effects and can contribute to chronic inflammation.
Your child will encounter stressful situations throughout their entire life. You can prepare them for these experiences by showing them how to stay calm when they’re emotionally triggered.
1. Avoid escalating emotional situations
It’s human nature to be reactive to situations that elicit a strong, negative, emotional response. However, if your child is having this type of experience, it doesn’t help to react to them in a way that creates even more negative emotion.
For instance, if you’re in the grocery store and your child throws a tantrum because you won’t buy them cookies, you’ll only escalate the situation by getting upset and engaging in an argument.
When your child is emotionally triggered, take a step back and be as neutral as possible in the way you express your emotions. Don’t give them any reason to dive deeper into a tantrum or create a new reason for them to be upset. It’s also possible that your child might have autism, and their tantrums are actually meltdowns from overstimulation.
If you think your child might be on the autism spectrum, you’ll need to approach emotional upsets a little differently. The first thing to do is seek a professional diagnosis and if they are on the spectrum, get them into Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy as soon as possible.
This type of therapy is designed to help kids with autism learn constructive behaviors and stop disruptive ones. While kids who throw tantrums are often just trying to get their way, kids with autism are responding to overstimulation that builds until they explode. They aren’t the same thing and need to be handled differently.
2. Model emotional control
One of the most effective ways to teach your kids emotional control is to model the behavior for them. Keep your emotions in check when you’re around your child so they never see you lash out in anger or explode. If you do happen to explode negatively, make sure you apologize to them for the impact.
It may not seem like it, but when parents get angry in front of their children, sometimes kids internalize it and feel like it’s their fault. Other times, it’s just jarring to them. By apologizing to your child for your negative emotional outbursts, you’ll be teaching them how to apologize for theirs.
3. Don’t be a helicopter parent
When your child is upset, give them space to go into their room and manage their emotions and calm themselves down. Don’t be the kind of parent who hovers over them, watching their every move to ensure they do everything you taught them.
4. Ignore insults from your child
Unfortunately, sometimes kids will throw insults at their parents and make arguments a little more heated. Don’t take these jabs personally and don’t respond to them, either. Avoid interacting with your child the same way they’d interact with a classmate at school. This is another way to lead by example, and it’s only effective when you’re consistent.
Teach your child that insults won’t get a reaction, nor will they escalate the situation. Ignore the content of what they say and focus on assisting them to calm down. This might require being silent while they wind down, or they might just need a hug. You know your child best, but whatever you do, show them what it looks like to not react to insults.
5. Praise your child when they stay calm
Whenever your child successfully regulates their emotions in a tough situation, give them praise. Tell them they’ve done a great job and encourage them to stay in that space. Kids need to know when they’re doing something right, and praise will encourage them to continue the effort to calm down in stressful situations.
Triggers don’t always have to result in stress
Children are going to get upset throughout their life and the point isn’t to avoid negative emotions, but rather, to maintain control over those emotions.
When your child has the tools to stay calm in stressful situations, their triggers won’t always throw them into an emotional tailspin. Over time, they’ll react less intensely to situations that used to bother them; as a result, they’ll be happier and healthier overall.