A Big Emotion is Not an Emergency: Helping Teenagers Manage Their Emotions

Lisa Marchiano, writing in Aero magazine says:

“I have a wise colleague who likes to say that a big emotion is not an emergency.”

“I learned early in my daughter’s toddler days that savvy moms don’t gasp or shriek when the baby falls and bumps herself. At playgroups, the correct response was modeled for me: toddler falls down; toddler looks toward mom with a face beginning to scrunch with distress and fear; mom, watching from across the room, responds reassuringly; baby goes back to playing. I, too, learned to call out you’re okay! in a pleasant sing song, despite having my heart in my throat.

It turns out that the moms in my playgroup were onto something. Young children look to the emotional reactions of others to gauge the appropriate way to proceed. This is known as social referencing. Social referencing is a vital way that young children come to understand when they need to be afraid, versus when they can move forward with confidence. A baby who catches his mother’s eye and reads distress and alarm is more likely to wail than a baby who is met with confirmation that all is well.

But social referencing isn’t just for toddlers. As our kids grow older, they continue to take cues from us about how they’re doing. We are always sending subtle messages about how resilient we believe them to be — and our kids can’t help but respond as expected. As a therapist who works with many mothers, I see a concerning trend of adults having difficulty enduring uncomfortable feelings in teens. This can result in us unintentionally telegraphing expectations of emotional frailty, which in turn influences what kids expect of themselves …”

Read more here.

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