Parenting educator and mum-of-four GEN MUIR has helped thousands of families dealing with strong emotions and challenging behaviour in young kids. Fussy eating, bedtime battles, school refusal, public meltdowns, sibling rivalry? Gen shows you how to work with your child through these issues without losing your mind or quashing your child’s spirit.
In this extract from her book, Little People, Big Feelings, we find out why it’s okay that kids ‘lose it’ sometimes.
BIG FEELINGS ARE NORMAL
So first, let’s look at why kids ‘lose it’. It’s actually how they grow and develop their brains. Yep, they NEED to have meltdowns in order to turn into resilient, kind, together humans.
A human baby is born with emotions, and the only way for them to communicate these is through crying and non-verbal cues. While a toddler may look like a mini adult, capable of negotiating their way out of a hostage situation,their actual ability to manage all their big feelings is a long, long way from being fully developed. Babies and young children are more about their feelings than anything else, and yet their ability to articulate and communicate those feelings in a calm and rational way isn’t fully developed until well into their 20s . . . yep, their 20s.
One of the big goals you may have for your child is that they will one day be resilient: that they will encounter thedisappointment of someone cutting their toast wrong or giving them the wrong- coloured cup and think, ‘Okay, this didn’tgo how I was hoping, but that’s okay and I can manage this.’ Resilience is something we really want to cultivate in our kids as parents, because we know the world can be a tough place.
Ironically, the building of resilience in a child can look very, very ‘un-resilient’. The way the human brain builds resilience is through practice. It can’t be taught; it needs to be experienced. So in fact, a toddler who is expressing lots and lots of big emotions, with the support of a loving caregiver, is practising how to regulate every single time they lose it. Every time theemotions fire up, and they can let the feelings out, they get to experience and learn the skills and process of regulating emotion through co-regulation.
According to author and former psychologist Dr Vanessa Lapointe, there are ‘two things to know: (1) children are not born with the capacity to self-regulate, and (2) the human brain is the only organ that can be fully regulated from theoutside’.
This means that children don’t have the capacity to soothe and feel settled from within and need to seek this externallythrough behaviour. Additionally, Lapointe states that ‘one of the basic principles of neuroplasticity is that “neurons thatfire together wire together” – the more repetition certain neuronal tracks in the brain have with being fired up in a givensequence, such as those responsible for self-regulation, the more likely those tracks will take root in the brain as a functioning system’.
This means that your child who seems to be having a harder time sharing or regulating emotions than the other kidsis actually busy creating the pathways that lead to the skills we want them to have.
A child will not learn how to regulate without lots of practice with a loving caregiver who models the ability toregulate for the child over and over via a safe emotional connection.
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT FEELINGS IN KIDS
- Babies have emotions at birth and the only way for them to communicate these is by crying and non-verbal cues.
- A child’s ability to fully understand and regulate their feelings isn’t fully formed until
- Children learn to regulate by getting dysregulated (having lots of big feelings or meltdowns) and having us staycalm when they are not. This process is called co-regulation.
- Co-regulating with our kids is one of the hardest parts of parenting for most parents I work
- Co-regulating and welcoming feelings is the single biggest thing you can do to ‘turn out’ a human who is resilient, happy and confident and who reaches their
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Genevieve Muir is a Parent Educator and Obstetric Social Worker at the Mater hospital in Sydney and also a mother to four beautiful boys. She is passionate about working with families around connection and attachment with their children from birth to five years.
Gen assists parents to filter out the noise and find the parenting rhythm that works for them. She has a Bachelor of Social work (BSW) at UNSW, is a Circle of Security Facilitator, a Tuning into Kids Facilitator and has a Grad Dip. in Grief and Bereavement Counselling.
With 13 years on the ground raising four kids Gen understands the challenges parents face first hand.
Genevieve Muir is the founder of Connected Parenting