Looking back over the last year, you’ll likely notice that you and other family members and friends have responded differently to the many changes we’ve seen. Some of this is a result of our temperament.
Temperament describes the unique tendencies and traits that make up someone’s personality. Our temperament is part of what determines how we react to unfamiliar situations, and considering those tendencies can help us give ourselves and our children the support we need to weather the storm and thrive.
Different researchers and publications use various labels to describe the components of temperament, including:
- Emotional intensity: response to feelings like excitement and anger
- Adaptability: response to new people and activities
- Sensory reactivity: response to sensory experiences, lights, sounds, others’ emotion
Emotional intensity is important to consider because it can help us feel more prepared when big, intense reactions are on the horizon. When your child’s outburst catches you off guard, it can lead to a bigger reaction on your part, escalating an already-difficult situation. You can prepare yourself by remembering there may be a big splash at first, followed by moments to allow the feelings to happen, then a reconnection with your child once the waves are settled.
Many children respond to change with big and sometimes intense feelings as they learn to understand themselves and their world. If you have a child who responds with big feelings to change, your own self-care is especially crucial. If you are burned out, you won’t have the capacity to help your kiddos with their big feelings. Think of it like a bank account. Make deposits now (by nurturing yourself) so that when you need to make an extra large withdrawal during big feelings, the impact won’t leave you “bankrupt.”
Also, remember that big feelings are just that — big feelings. They are neither better nor worse than less-intense feelings. You can use emotion coaching skills in these situations to help your children ride the waves of big feelings. Emotion coaching, at its most basic, involves validating and naming the emotions your child is feeling. When the waves have settled, you can look at ways to problem-solve.
Consider that the time to teach new skills around coping with big emotions is not in the middle of a big upset. You can practice these skills and learn about emotions when everyone is feeling good. You can read books with your child or create a special “angry” place where they can go to let loose on their hard feelings. Being proactive about the possibility of big feelings will help everyone feel more empowered and less stressed.