Episode 54

Helping your children (big or small) with their big emotions

November 7, 2022

[Kyle]: In today's podcast we're going to talk about big feelings. Do you have kids who have big feelings in your family and it's kind of frustrating you don't know what to do with them? I hope today's podcasts will help you get a better framework, about how to approach those in your child and also in yourself. 

[Music]

[Kyle]: Hello, and welcome to episode 54 of The Art of Raising Humans. I’m Kyle.

[Sara]: And I’m Sara.

[Kyle]: Have you ever had big, big feelings that seem overwhelming?

[Sara]: Definitely.

[Kyle]: You have?

[Sara]: I’m human.

[Kyle]: Okay. Have you ever had kids who had big, big feelings and you're like “what in the world!? Why are you so upset about this!?”.

[Sara]: Definitely

[Kyle]: And especially with teenagers, it can-- Sometimes you are kind of confused because you're like “why are they so upset about this!?”.

[Sara]: Yeah, I think that's true with all ages, you know? The time that your child's really upset because they got the wrong cookie or something. You see it when they're really little.

[Sara]: But I think the difference is there's much more expectation. At least for me on older kids, I think “okay, by now you should not be so upset”.

[Kyle]: I was totally gonna say that. Well, especially because you and I have done so much work to be like “come on! Wasn't the goal to not have this happen anymore!?”.

[Sara]: Yeah, “you should never be upset; you should be the meaning of calm and peaceful”.

[Kyle]: Yes, “you have two counselors as parents who are constantly working on this”.

[Sara]: “You have emotions!? What!?”

[Kyle]: “Yes! And they're still big!”. The point was never to get the big ones again and then, of course, we know you and I have big emotions.

[Sara]: Definitely, everyone does.

[Kyle]: So, the goal isn't to never have big emotions?

[Sara]: Right

[Kyle]: Dang it. I thought that was the goal, that the goal was always-- But then I say that, but I love happy big.

[Kyle]: Happy big, fun. Joy, big Joy is fun, right? Feeling big peace, feeling all those kinds of ones. I love those big emotions. So, could we just make that a goal? Like to--

[Sara]: Let's get rid of all the uncomfortable ones, that's healthy.

[Kyle]: I don't mind anger. So, if we get anger for me, it's okay.

[Sara]: You don’t mind. So, anger on the table for you.

[Kyle]: Yes, anger's okay, because I want to be able to be angry. Is that okay if I can be angry? But I don't like big sad, big scared, big all that.

[Kyle]: Okay. So, we have to deal with all those. All right. Well, today I want to dive into, we had a specific instance that happened a couple weeks ago with our oldest daughter Abby, who you heard in a podcast previously. If you hadn't, we did a great interview with her on episode 50. You could go back and listen to that. But she had some big feelings and I kind of like, in the moment, I just-- I kind of made this up in the moment, but I’m sure I didn't make it up. I’m sure it's through many, many years helping teenagers through their big feelings and I thought this three-step process was not only helpful to her, but it was helpful to me, you know? And I shared it with you, Sara, and kind of talked to you about the steps and so, I thought it'd be great for us to talk about just one particular method, one way--

[Sara]: Yeah, just some framework to jump from.

[Kyle]: Yeah. To see kind of it's not like a perfect model, but-- I mean, we're sharing it because Sara and I are passionate, not only about helping kids and we don't want to make this podcast about “do this technique that we do and bam! Your kid's gonna be better”.

[Kyle]: It's really about, you know, The Art of Raising Humans and you and I are humans too. So, I feel like these big emotions aren't just about our daughter Abby, they're about us as well.

[Sara]: Definitely

[Kyle]: And so, I think in the process of helping my daughter through the big emotions, I might learn something about myself.

[Kyle]: And I might give myself a framework, some simple steps that I could use when my emotions get real big too, you know? So, I wanted to use this example today. I would ask you as we jump into this, to definitely-- We'd love for you to rate the podcast, we love the five stars, the comments, the feedback, all that stuff is so helpful. It gives us other topics to do in the future and so, we've got a lot of feedback from different people that, as soon as I hear, I go back and I take some notes, I’m like “let's do a podcast on that”. So, just know your voice is heard if you comment down. If you go to parentinglegacy.com, that's our website, you can go on there and you can send emails through that as well, and you can send us feedback that way. We'd love to have you connect with us on Facebook and Instagram and you can also ask us questions on there too and we'll use those as podcast stuff. So, we'd love to hear from any of you listeners who this is helpful to or other thoughts you have. So, in today's podcast I want to specifically talk about this instance and what I did to kind of help our daughter through it and I think it'll be helpful to you and to your teenagers, okay?

[Sara]: I wanna add one little quick thing in here, because as a person who-- As I was pretty-- I’m pretty even compared to some other people in our family that [Unintelligible] emotions and I want to say that, if you're one of those people or you have one of those children who's more even. I want--

[Kyle]: More even keel, you mean their emotions aren't quite so big and so--

[Sara]: Yes. Yeah, yeah. All right, like-- You know, some people have just, they're just born big feelings.

[Kyle]: Yeah. What?

[Sara]: No, we don't know anything about that.

[Kyle]: I don't know any-- Yeah, I don't know that, yeah.

[Sara]: And then there's other people who just their temperament and personality, they're a little more even. But I want to say that for those people, if you're that or you have a child like that, the goal there is we actually want to allow the feelings. Because sometimes I would as a child think “okay, good, I’m being easy for my parents” or “I’m being-- I’m gonna just stuff all that down or tuck that away or--” and sometimes, even if you would have asked me, I would have said “no, I’m fine. I’m fine” and I would really believe I was fine and some of my growth was going “oh, it's actually okay to not always be fine. It's okay to not always be even” and my emotions are probably not gonna look like a huge-- You know, some people have real big emotions and maybe I won't ever look like that, but the work there is-- I don't-- You know, I don't want to go “oh well, I’m not that, I don't fit that category”. I actually need to lean into that a little bit because otherwise it goes into my body.

[Sara]: It can affect your health; it can affect your relationships. Because you're so out of tune with how you feel about things and we need to help bring ourselves and our children back to a place, where it's-- Where we can say “feel it, it's okay to feel.” It may not look like this, but let's make sure we're not numbing out, let's make sure we're not stuffing, tuning out of those emotions, but we're actually turning to them because they serve a purpose. Emotions can come and emotions can go and they are there to serve us and so, we don't need to just shut off to them. So, I just want to say that.

[Kyle]: So good.

[Sara]: Because for me as a child, we wouldn't have done a podcast necessarily about this.

[Kyle]: No

[Sara]: But we wouldn't need to be like “hey, let's wake up some of those feelings and opinions and desires that maybe have been shut down”. So--

[Kyle]: Man, that's good, that makes me think about our last podcast on respect, that's so true. Like, so many kids who look so respectful, lots of times maybe they're just hiding those emotions, you know? And the disrespectful ones are just the more expressive ones. They were like “I have these big emotions and I’m gonna just say them!”, you know? And I think even in the intro, when we were just saying is we can slip into of like, “couldn't you all just be even?”. Like, I know I have big emotions as the dad, but come on, give me a break. I don't need your big emotions too.

[Sara]: Or we honestly kind of go “oh, thank you for not being that emotional. Thank you for being an easy kid”, but we need to be cautious in that because they might be “yes, you're welcome, I am going to be the easy kid” and they're sort of shutting out things. But it's not on this real conscious level, it's not “oh, I feel mad, but I’m just gonna tuck that on the little shelf”. It's not always that obvious, it's in these ways that our subconscious has decided “okay, I need to be easy because there's too much here. So, I’m just gonna hold back”.

[Kyle]: Such a great point too thinking about the different temperaments, because as you're saying that, I don't think there's any way I could have done that as a kid. I only got any way I could not have been outwardly expressive, you know? Just that thought never crossed my mind to just, stuff it. I’m sure there's moments I didn't express it, but I knew I was gonna express it later, I was just gonna hold on to it. But you do see these kids who are so out of touch with it, because they've kind of told themselves and their temperament leans that direction, to just like, don't cause any problems, don't make any waves and a lot of times, those kids the parents like “oh, thank goodness we had one of you. Thank goodness you're here because, if we had more big emotions--” and to some extent, it's true, it is nicer to have that kid who also doesn't have it. But that kid also has big feelings, it just doesn't look the same as how the other ones do and--

[Sara]: And we want to help them. It's different work, it's the same coin, but it's the other side of that coin. It's a different work, but the emotions nonetheless need to be paid attention to.

[Kyle]: This sounds like a whole another podcast, that sounds like one to talk about, specifically you talking about that difficulty. Because I find in practice working with kids with the big emotions, lots of times is just easier because I can relate to it and I also, I love to have something to work with. Whereas like the kids who are more holding in, it's harder sometimes to reach that, because they don't even know where it is, you know?

[Sara]: No, no, you tuck it away so deep and you do it so effortlessly, you don't even notice you've done it. Until maybe years down the road you think “oh, yeah, I didn't like that”.

[Sara]: But you're so out of touch you can't even put words to it.

[Kyle]: So, I wanted to use this moment that happened a few weeks ago with Abby, is just like a glimpse into how Sara and I approach these big emotions with our kids, and so, Abby is a big feeler. Love that about her. She's always been a big feeler. We're actually gonna go watch a musical today and we just told her that we were going, kind of surprised her and her reaction is always awesome. She's always like “yes! oh my gosh!”. She just freaks out.

[Sara]: If you want to surprise anyone, she's the person to surprise. She will give you the reaction of a lifetime.

[Kyle]: Yes. So, she's got these big feelings, but this particular event she was going to, an event that she chose to go to, nobody was making her go to this thing. She chose to go to, but she was having these big feelings as I was driving her to this thing and she was crying and she was upset and so, I think just a glimpse into what goes on in us and I'd love to hear your feedback, Sara. When that's happening in me, I am getting kind of annoyed. I would like that drive to just be fun and pleasant and singing songs and talking about what a great time this event is going to be and then, I’m like “oh gosh, I gotta do some work here” and so, there is that moment, that does happen and I’m aware of it and then, I want to slip into “she needs my help. Because she needs my help”. So, how can I possibly help her manage these big feelings better?

[Sara]: I think that's a little tough, because there are definitely are times where you-- You've got stuff going you're like “not now, I don't want to do this now” and it is hard, it's that work as a parent that you do where you need to “okay, get ready. Move into the zone, move into this space where I’m supporting my child. I’m going to make the space for it, it doesn't matter if I have other things going on”, you know? There are times-- I’m not saying, you know, there are times you gotta just wait, but as much as possible this is the need right now. As if she broke her arm or as if something had happened, you would make space for it. “This is where she needs to grow, this is happening, I’m gonna accept it, I’m going to shift, I’m gonna move into that” and that's easier said than done sometimes.

[Kyle]: Yeah, few things that pop in my head. I could resist what is happening and just see all the problems with it or I can accept what's happening and start seeing solutions. So, that's what I-- That's what I did, I first tried to regulate myself, I try to move into-- Just like you said, if it was a broken arm or something, this is obviously meaningful to her and this moment isn't going to go away. So, even if I successfully “got Abby to stuff it”, it's not going away, it's just going to come out in some other form or fashion. So, I also lean back on a value you and I have, that these conflicts are about understanding and growing closer together, they're not about pushing each other further away. So, this moment is an opportunity for growth in her and growth in me. So, that's the framework by which I go “okay, Kyle, on this drive that's the goal. The goal isn't to make Abby no longer upset or get Abby to no longer express this, it's for her and I to understand each other better and grow closer together through it”.

[Sara]: It's an opportunity.

[Kyle]: Yeah, it's an opportunity for growth and intimacy. So, what I did was I leaned on some of the brain science. So, I leaned on Dr. Siegel's work, where Dr. Siegel talks about that the right side of the brain is the much more emotional aspects. Not all the emotions are there, but that's more. So, Abby was obviously in this emotional part of her brain, on the right side of the brain and I’m-- What I’m looking at it, which a lot of men in particular do, is they lean on the left side of the brain and like “this is so illogical, why are you feeling this way? We've done this before”, you know? Like-- So, we get in this kind of like “it's irrational what you're feeling”. Well, of course it is, because she's overwhelmed with emotion, right?

[Kyle]: So, what she needs for me is not in that moment to speak to her from the left side of the brain, but to interact with her on the right side of the brain. So, what she needs me to do is to try my best to just understand the feeling. So, I just want to hear it, just try to hold it and if I can, attune with it. So, we talked about this in our empathy podcast a few podcasts back, but I want to connect with the feeling first, right? That's pretty important.

[Sara]: Right

[Kyle]: And then, what I love is a technique by Dr. Lawrence Cohen, who's got a book called “The Opposite of Worry” and he in that book, he talks about talking to the feeling. So, I wanted Abby instead of letting her, whatever it was. I think she was feeling frustrated, she was feeling helpless, she was feeling overwhelmed. Instead of letting that feeling drive the car, I want her not to kick the feeling out and say “get out of here!”, because what we know about feelings is, they don't leave, they just like crawl on the windshield and they hang on to the top of the hood and so, we want to move the feeling from the driver's seat to the passenger seat, so you take over the car. So, I do want my child to-- And I want myself to take back the wheel of the car and then, look at the feeling and ask the feeling what is it trying to say to you and yeah.

[Sara]: I was just gonna say, I think we can easily all of us adults and children, sort of feel like the feeling is us and it's taken over and it's helpful to realize that feelings, I sort of see them as something that blow in and blow out. They are not you; they are there and what I love about doing that with kids or doing that with people, of let's move it to, let's talk to it, let's move it to a different seat. We sort of pull back from it and go “oh, I am not just anger, I am not just--” Even though we kind of know that in the moment, we feel lost in it, we feel like it is-- Has consumed us and so, to pull back and go “oh, it's there”, that helps, it does a shift in us and we don't feel so overtaken.

[Kyle]: I know this sounds weird, but Dr. Becky Bailey, she says-- You know, like when I’m saying this, it sounds kind of weird, but it always takes two to regulate. I can't regulate as one. So, what she says is, she says like, instead of saying “I am angry”, she says “I feel angry”. So, instead of “I am angry”, “I feel angry” and that's an important distinction.

[Kyle]: So, it's important to see regulation as two aspects, it's not just-- You can't do it just as one. So, going back to the example and bouncing off what you said, is Dr. Cohen saying “separate from the feeling”. It's not that I am angry or it's not that I am sad, it's I feel sad and I know that seems to be just a change in wording, but Dr. Becky Bailey would say it's a big change in wording, because no longer am I the feeling. So, if any of you have kids who have these big feelings, it's important to start there, is instead of saying, you know, “I am mad”, “no, you feel mad”. So, getting into that kind of conversation, you know?

[Kyle]: So, with Abby, I was doing this with her and it was interesting, as we talked about how upset she was and I just let her kind of give voice to the feeling. I mean, there's all types of stuff like, hurt that it seemed like we were telling her to go away to do this thing or that you know, we would rather her be there than with us or that we weren't just telling her “no, don't go, stay with us”, you know? And all these kinds of thoughts were coming out, that obviously weren't real, you know? I mean, I even told her “I'd much rather you be with me. I always like being with you”. There's no way I’m thinking “I'd rather you be there than with me, but I also think this thing is something you chose to do and I think it's something that you enjoy doing. I think it's something that's helpful and so, us just turning the car around right now, that's not going to help”, right? So, in this discussion, it was really enlightening to help me better understand her, but also then it allowed her the ability to receive some feedback on some of that too, to say “oh no, this is actually how we feel about it as well”, you know? We had that back and forth.

[Kyle]: So, in that, we're talking to the feeling and we're listening to what the feeling has to say. Another thing that Dr. Cohen does is, then once you're doing that, to kind of measure like, how big is the upset right now, how big is the anger and I think hers was maybe at like a seven and so, we're like “okay--”. So, now that once we do this technique, once we do this listening to the feeling thing, just check in again and say “where is it at now?” and the hope is that it went down and it did. It was kind of cool to see her body relax, the tears weren't quite as big. There was still a little bit ones and it wasn't-- She wasn't breathing as quick. All that stuff was evident to me that this technique was helping, but then for her to go “oh, yeah, I’m now like a four”, you know? That was pretty good.

[Kyle]: So, then the next step I wanted to do is, I wanted to switch towards gratitude and seeing the value of what she was going to do. So, instead of-- I was trying to listen for, Sara, like where-- If she had shifted in her brain. Like, you and I know if she's in the limbic system, the emotional part of the brain, everything's gonna be like what this event is taking from her, you know? What she's missing out on, what she's not getting and instead, I wanted to see after we did this, did it help her shift to the prefrontal cortex? To where now she could see the moment has value? That what she's about to do has good things for her? You know? And she was able to get there a little bit and as we talked more about it, she was able to see that, but I think that's a really important part of the change. Is talk to the feeling, start to regulate the feeling, then move towards gratitude and seeing the value of what that moment has to offer.

[Sara]: Yeah, shifting back up there gives you the space and permission to view the story and view the situation differently. You're not locked in, there's this way that the emotion was almost controlling and you don't have the freedom to be in a different space until you sort of set that feeling over there and talk to it and hear from it. Then you can move into a different space.

[Kyle]: I love how you worded that, it gave her permission and the freedom to then see it differently, right? And that's totally what happened, because at first, I tried this-- Before we did the feeling thing, I’m like “but honey, you said you like this”; “no, I don't like that! I don't like it!”. I’m sure every parent listening can-- But like, “you just said last week you did like that about that” and then she “no! I actually hate that about that!”. It was all like “okay, okay”. Whenever I hear that, I need to back off and go “okay, this isn't the pathway to go. This isn't helpful, she's not in that space”. Like you said, she right now doesn't feel the freedom or have permission to see the good in what's happening.

[Kyle]: And I think that's so good for us as adults too, right? I mean, even go back to what I was feeling, when I was like “oh, why she got these feelings? I wish she was--” I wasn't giving myself permission to go “this is a great moment for us to grow closer together”. I was like “oh my gosh! I just-- It's so early, why are we doing this already?” or like “could we just not-- Have a happy time on the way?”, you know? And so, once I started doing this, I noticed I could see that this is a really great opportunity. “Look how much I’m learning about my daughter, this is really cool, we're really growing closer together.”

[Kyle]: “This is a moment for me to be a dad who actually cares about feelings and not just a dad who wants her to stuff them, this is great! Oh, this can be really good for her future relationships.”

[Kyle]: Able to see all that. Okay? And then the third part, what I switched to. Once we did “let's help you regulate by knowing you're not the feeling, you can talk to the feeling, see but the feeling's offering you and also see how that feeling-- How listening to that is helpful to you, but then you can switch to gratitude. Like, this moment is enough, this moment doesn't need to change. This moment is exactly how this moment was intended to be and, what value can we find in it?”. Once we did that, then the third part now that she's in the prefrontal cortex, is I wanted to move towards a deeper understanding of trust. Trusting herself, trusting us as parents and trusting the people she's about to go do this event with, you know? Because I think that trust and if I could use kind of a religious term, faith, that there's something bigger at work in this moment, you know?

[Kyle]: That I’m not on my own, that that going to this thing or going through this moment isn't a solitary activity. That there's people with you in this moment. That the reason why I’m driving you to this event is because I think this event is good. I wouldn't send you this event if I didn't think that, you know? And that not only me, but if you have a faith background or a spiritual type, then you could also believe that God or some other bigger thing is at play here too and you're not alone in that moment, you know? Have faith that these people you're going to spend time with are for you and actually do care about you.

[Sara]: Yeah, and those big emotions we can feel very alone. Big emotions: anger, grief, sadness, anxiety, you often feel very alone in that part of your brain.

[Sara]: And that overwhelm of emotion and to be able to remove it, step aside, join in community. What I hear a lot of that is community, that you are not alone and there's all these gifts there, these opportunities there for your benefit.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and then the last part of that trust is trusting that she can do this, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, she has what it takes, she has what she needs for this moment.

[Kyle]: Yeah. I think that's a big one. I’ve heard that a lot lately, Sara, this past, you know, several months in practice. Some different clients kind of talking about this and I thought it was interesting to see this theme, is it's one thing to trust in people who love you, right? And believe that they're for you and have “faith” in their intentions, right? It's another thing also to trust that maybe God or some other, you know, bigger thing is working on your behalf, right? But I think the hardest thing a lot of times is to trust yourself, you know? And really, because of these type of moments is, I think lots of times as kids when we have these big emotions, we were told those emotions were wrong or I shouldn't have them, you know? And there was this kind of disconnect, there was this incongruence that I couldn't trust myself, I couldn't trust like-- In one sense I should trust, that my parents are saying I should be happy to do this and, why am I not? Well, I can't trust myself, I need to trust them, right?

[Kyle]: And so, I don't want Abby to think that. That just because I say it's good, she should just-- Or that it's going to go well. I want her to trust that she can do this, that it will go well because I know she can handle it.

[Kyle]: And really, it's not asking her to necessarily just trust me, it's her to trust the trust I have in her.

[Sara]: Yeah. Well, and that she has the power in the moment to decide how it's going to go. I’ve made this decision and I’m not at the mercy of “well, I hope I made the-- I hope this is going to go well”, but actually “I can actually decide and make it go”. “This is the decision and the choice I made and I’m gonna make it the right one”, so to speak.

[Kyle]: Yeah, “I’m gonna make this moment what I would like it to be”, instead of being--

[Sara]: “I actually have choice in this, I’m not at the mercy of the moment”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and trusting no matter what the moment brings, you can do this and not even saying you can’t do this on your own, but that you can do this and that you have people around you, who will help you know you can do this. They will equip you; they will support you; they will encourage you. Just look around, you know? And so, I think that's a big part that I really lately have been trying to help parents see more, is trying to help cultivate that within their kid that they can trust themselves and once again, I’m not saying this to become a self-sufficient, self-reliant kid. Like “I can trust myself and then just go do whatever I want”, it’s--

[Sara]: Yeah, “I’m all alone and I got this”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, it's trusting that I have the ability to, one, do this thing, engage this moment, but if I need help, I can reach out and know how to do that too and say “hey, I--” Like, the example I like to use, I was hesitating to use this just because I use it so often, but it's this picture of somebody bench pressing and it's just such a guy example, so that's why-- Because guys love to bench press. Man, I’m feeling that so-- But like, that that trust of like, I put the weight on there, but leaving I can do this wait. But when I put all that weight on there, I don't do and go “yeah, I can do this all on my own”, I ask for someone else to spot me and I say “hey, can you spot me on this?”. I believe I can do this, but if it gets too heavy, I want you there to help me be able to do the rest, right?

[Kyle]: And so that's kind of the picture of what I want Abby to do or any parent to be able to do with their kids with these big emotions. Is the emotions are becoming such a problem, because they don't believe they can trust themselves with these big emotions and many times, our reaction confirms that and says like “you need me to stop these big emotions. You need me to make these emotions go away”. I want her to know whether or not we're readily present to do that, there are skills we have given to you to help you manage those big emotions and know what to do with them.

[Kyle]: So, if you are a parent with a kid of big emotions or I love how Sara started this, of a kid who is not showing those as big and maybe we'll hit a bigger podcast about this later, I hope this gives you kind of a framework on how to maybe approach these things. To help them regulate, to help them switch towards gratitude, seeing the value, but also knowing when the right time is to do that and if they're resistant to it, you got to go back and regulate again and then, eventually turning to helping them trust themselves with these big, big feelings. Because those feelings aren't there to hurt them, they're there to help them and I hope this helps you as parents, to know these exact same steps work for you. So, if you're feeling overwhelmed with what's going on in the world today or job situations or your marriage, these same kinds of steps can also be beneficial to you. So, really appreciate you taking the time to listen to this and just hope it benefits your family greatly.

[Sara]: Have a great day.