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Parenting

Ask Sarah: How to Help with the Really Big Feelings

Parenting expert Sarah Rosensweet shares strategies on how to help when your little one is acting out more than usual.

Ask Sarah: How to Help with the Really Big Feelings

Photo: iStockphotos

Struggling with tantrums, bedtime boundaries, or simply wondering how to raise happy, confident kids? Sarah Rosensweet offers peaceful parenting advice to help families find balance.

Have a question for Sarah? Send us an email at editors@todaysparent.com.

Q: My 5-year-old spent some time with her older cousins recently and is now mimicking their behaviour, talking back, arguing, tantrums at a whole new level. Will this eventually pass or does it need to be addressed differently than how we normally would? We do a lot of validating feelings, letting her express herself in a safe space and working through it with her, but this is more than we're used to. 

-Mom of 5 year old daughter

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two kids sitting at a table fighting over a toy Getty / ilkercelik

A: You say that you are validating your daughter’s feelings and letting her work through them. It sounds like you are handling this just fine.

It sounds like you believe what we teach in peaceful parenting: She is having a hard time, not trying to give you a hard time.

The question here is, why is she acting this way? I believe all behaviour is an attempt to get a need met.

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One possibility is that she is trying to empty her emotional backpack.

When we have a lot of big feelings, tensions or stresses, and we can’t process them in the moment because we don’t feel we have the space or we want to keep it all together, we often “stuff” these into our emotional backpacks. Then, later, when we are feeling safe, those feelings can come back up to be processed.

Even if she had a great time with her cousins, all the travel and new activities could be enough to give her a full backpack. If it was hard to be there or a lot of work on her part being with them, then she would definitely have a full backpack. So when she comes home, she needs to process everything she has stored away- which might look like all the dysregulation you have described.

The best way to help a kid empty their backpack is through tears or laughter. Do lots of roughhousing and play that gets her laughing, and when she’s upset, use your empathy and compassion to welcome the tears.

Make sure you’re giving her lots of positive attention and spending time connecting, helping her laugh and cry, and if she still seems to be having a hard time, I might wonder if there is something else going on.

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If this is unusual behaviour for your daughter, we would for sure want to figure out why it’s happening. It does seem like she is being provocative. Because all behaviour signals an unmet need, I’d want to make sure this really is about a full backpack after the cousin visit and not because she is having a hard time about something else.

Maybe she’s having friend troubles, or there is something at school. Even you or her other caregiver experiencing a lot of stress or being unwell can cause a child to “act out.”

Rest assured, being there for her and validating her feelings when she’s melting down won’t encourage more challenging behaviour. Remind yourself that she wants to be good and keep on doing what you’re doing.

Need support with other parenting challenges? Our Ask Sarah series covers topics like setting boundaries and treating kids as equals, how to reduce bedtime struggles and how to prepare for playdates.

Author:

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Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and her 15 and 18-year-old kids. Her 22-year-old son has launched.

Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to “we’ve got this!”

Sarah offers a free course, How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids, so that you can be the parent you want to be. Read more at: www.sarahrosensweet.com  or listen to her top-rated parenting podcast, The Peaceful Parenting Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts!

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