Accept Your Child’s Emotions

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There isn’t a single piece of research that shows that rejecting, ignoring, dismissing, invalidating, resisting, ridiculing, punishing or attempting to shut down children’s emotions is good for them or for the parent-child relationship. There is, however, decades of research showing just the opposite: that when we accept our children’s feelings and help them organize their emotions by offering our presence, connection, nurturance, understanding, and guidance, they develop into more secure, confident, and socially and academically competent adults who tend to be able to better regulate their emotions and respond with sensitivity to others’ emotions. 

For both kids and adults, having our emotions rejected or dismissed usually leads to the amplification of the intensity of emotion. In kids, “meltdowns” and “tantrums” (emotional dysregulation, stress, and overwhelm) are likely to be more intense and occur for longer when their emotions are rejected rather than accepted. Accepting your child’s emotion and responding with sensitivity, with presence, empathy, and nurturance, can help to soothe and contain your child’s emotion, and help them organize their emotional experience; this process is called ‘coregulation’ and is the foundation required for children to gradually learn to regulate their own emotions. 

‘Oh, but what about when they are engaging in undesirable behavior?’, I hear you say. ‘Should I set limits when they are expressing their emotion in bad behaviors?’ Children can’t effectively or consistently regulate their behavior before they have learnt to effectively regulate their emotion…and let’s be real here, many adults haven’t mastered this skill. Your child is much more likely to be able to regulate their behavior (engage in healthy, adaptive behavior) when they can effectively regulate their emotions, and, for them to be able to regulate their emotions, they need to have their emotions accepted and supported by their caregivers— on this the research is clear. 


How to Smooth Transitions and Avoid Meltdowns

Turning off the TV, leaving the playground, giving back the iPad, or ending a play date — any of these may provoke a tantrum. Why? Many children with autism and ADHD have difficulty moving from one task to another, especially when they must stop an enjoyable activity. Behavior intervention strategies can help smooth the transitions. 

  1. Define Expectations 

Clearly identifying your objectives and setting attainable short- and long-term goals are the first steps to any behavior change plan. 

Let’s take the LEGO example. The expectation may be: When the time comes to shift to another activity, my child will comply when he is asked, without resisting, crying, shouting, or throwing things. 

  1. Create a Schedule 

A written or a visual schedule can help your child follow the order of events for a specific time period. But posting a schedule does not automatically mean your child will follow it. Checking off the events in a schedule should be accompanied by positive reinforcement. 

  1. Reinforcement 

Once you have thought of possible reinforcers for your child (you can create a visual depicting the reinforcers for your child to see), try simultaneously presenting the reward as the transition time is occurring, before your child can resist. Besides offering tangible items, positive reinforcement should also include behavior-specific vocal praise. 

If your child already starts to fuss when the announcement is made to start a new activity, don’t promise the reinforcer. It is very important that the engagement in a challenging behavior never results in receiving a pleasurable item or activity. Reinforcers should only follow desired behaviors. As transitions are consistently paired with reinforcement, the new desired behavior can become more of the “norm.” 

  1. Plan 

Prepare in advance to reap the benefits from your intervention plans. Know how you will present the transition, what items or activities will be effective reinforcers to motivate a successful transition, and how you will respond if your child does not go along with the shift in activity. 

  1. Give Choices When Possible 

Offer options to help your child with transitions. You might say, “Do you want me to help you clean up, or do you want to do it by yourself? It is almost time to leave for baseball practice,” “We are ready to finish TV time and have lunch.” It also helps to see things from your child’s perspective. If a game is just about to end, or there are three minutes left on his TV show, be flexible when possible. 

When a parent’s emotion run high, the child’s emotion will, too. Demonstrate the behaviors you want your children to engage in. Urging a child to “Come on, hurry! We are going to be late,” can have a negative effect. Stay calm and steady. 

Coach Benjamin Mizrahi. Educator. Learning Specialist. Family Coach. Father. Husband.   

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Temper Tantrums VS Meltdowns

There are significant differences, neurologically, between a temper tantrum and a meltdown – those differences come down to which parts of the brain are in control during a meltdown or a temper tantrum. 


As awful as tantrums can be, it is an indicator that your child’s executive functions are developing typically. So, in a strange way you can be proud of your kiddo for that fit they’re throwing. 

A child having a tantrum is acting out in order to get their way or push your buttons or get some attention. They’re likely operating with the forebrain and midbrain – the thinking and feeling brain. 

They may appear out of control but are able to stop the tantrum abruptly (for example, when they get what they want) and return to making logical decisions and behaving calmly. 

Parents are taught to ignore tantrum – because if your child’s tantrum doesn’t get them what they want or get a reaction out of you, they will learn that this strategy is ineffective and over time, will stop. 

You may notice a child who is throwing a tantrum will look over at you to see if you’re watching them. 

Young children use tantrums because they don’t have the communication skills yet to communicate their wants and needs. Learning about their feelings, and positive ways to communicate, will drastically reduce the frequency of tantrums. 


A meltdown is completely different. 

When a child is having a meltdown, thanks to their amygdala causing fight or flight to kick in, the prefrontal cortex responsible for executive functioning completely shuts down. 

Stress hormones flood their tiny body and, temporarily, they are literally incapable of controlling their actions and emotions, or using any executive functions like considering consequences, problem-solving, or listening to reason. 

When your child is having a meltdown, they do not need you to set firm boundaries or ignore their outbursts. Your child needs you to be nurturing and comforting until the meltdown is over.  

The best approach to take will vary depending on your child’s temperament and what the trigger of the meltdown was. Just remember that this is an emotional reaction and not a behavior choice. 

When your child is having a meltdown, trying to talk to them about consequences or appropriate vs inappropriate behavior will not help, and may in fact make things worse. 

The executive functions of the brain need to be up and running for any of this information to be processed. 

When their emotions are regulated again, and no longer rushing with emotions, you can talk about appropriate vs inappropriate behavior with them. 

It’s better to talk to your child using compassion and understanding than to be punitive. The best strategy for meltdowns is to be proactive. 

Coach Benjamin Mizrahi. Educator. Learning Specialist. Family Coach. Father. Husband.   

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