“Mom, do you have to go anywhere today?” I hear my six year old say to my back as I am putting on a pair of “nicer than gym” shorts.
I sighed to myself, I have learned that much constraint, closed my eyes, and breathed deeply.
I turned around to face my son, knelt down on one knee, and said, “I have a doctor's appointment today. I need to do this appointment on my own.”
His brown eyes quickly filled with tears. I could see him try to stop the tears and that the tears stung his eyes.
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“How long will it take you? When will you go? Will you tell me when you leave?” His anxiety suffocated the two of us in my bedroom.
“Yes, yes, of course, my love.”
For as long as I can recall, my son struggles daily with emotional regulation. We started intervention when he was three and subsequently attended various therapy sessions, including parent coaching. All of which worthwhile but required a lot of faith on my part. I have to believe that all this hard work on the front end will help him be a happier, more well adjusted adult.
Over the years, I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in how best to communicate and to respond to the more difficult challenges we face together (and separately for that matter) each day. I don't regret a moment spent working with therapist or reading resources that equipped me in these challenging times.
Three Approaches to Regulating my Son's Emotions
However, over time, I have come to realize that three approaches matter most to my son when he struggles with anxiety and aggression.
- First, letting him know that I am there and that I love him makes a world of difference.
- Next, turning his troubles upside down by saying something like, “You are my planner! I love that about you!” or “You really keep me on track. Thanks for checking in.” or “You really like to know what the day is going to bring us, don't you! I love that quality about you.” I never want him to think qualities that we will never change in him are negatives.
- Finally, I feed him with affirmations. When he is scared or anxious, I say, “You're brave. You are so good at making friends. You are so good at hard things,” and so on. These compliments and reminders fill him up and give him the strength to regulate and move forward in what otherwise would be scary situation.
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