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Your kids work themselves into a tizzy over how you cut their sandwiches.

NOOOOOO, I need triangles!, I only love triangles, I’m NOT EATING SQUARES, I hate squares, I hate you” – Sandwich is now on the floor and kid has stormed off.

Familiar? Let me tell you what is really going on.

As humans, we all carry around a little bag or bucket (I picture it as a soft bucket that hangs around our neck and sits over our chest and throat) where we put our feelings. It has a lid on it which is our ability to regulate those emotions. So as that ability grows, our control over the lid grows too.

Children who are learning to understand and regulate their emotions have a very floppy lid on their bucket! Some adults have a lid that is too tight on their bucket because they have learned that letting the emotions out is bad or negative. So we all ‘manage’ our lids differently.

The thing with little kids is, they don’t even know that their buckets are filling up!

Kids are impacted throughout the day by seemingly small hurts and fears that go into their buckets. It is not just the big things that we notice that impact them, there are also daily occurrences like;

  • Having to transition from one activity to another when they are not ready.
  • Having to ‘hold it together’ when their parents are not around. (school, daycare etc)
  • Having to try something new or go to a new place and not knowing what might happen.
  • A fight with a sibling
  • Having your attention move away from them onto a task.

While these might seem like nothing to us, to our kids they can equal a fear or hurt that get’s added to their bucket.

When the bucket is full, some feelings need to be emptied out of there. You notice they become demanding, whiney, mopey (the lid of their bucket is flapping around and bits of feelings are seeping out). They need to make some space in their bucket. At this point your child is looking for something, anything to hook their feelings onto so they can empty out the bucket – CUE THE SANDWICH.

When our kid’s rages, tantrums, anger or upset seem completely disproportionate to the event, we can guess that they need to clear out some of their stored emotions so they can get back on with being a kid.

Parents commonly find that once the emotions are ‘cleared out’ their kids go back to whatever they were doing with renewed ease and happiness and it is us, the parent who is left with the ‘what just happened’ feeling.

So next time your child loses control over something that seems silly, I invite you to try thinking about their bucket and doing the following things;

  • Remember that it is not about the sandwich (or whatever the feelings hook is) so focus on not losing your temper about the way your child has lost their temper. – You are the big one so you have to do the role modelling about the healthy expression of emotion!
  • Take a deep breath and ask yourself “What do I want my child to learn about their feelings?”
  • Support your child to empty out their bucket by staying with them, listening to and validating their big feelings and continuing to maintain the original boundary. “I can hear you are really cross, today the sandwich is in squares.” (because the sandwich was the hook, the sandwich can continue to help your child empty their bucket)
  • Your child may rage, cry hard, say angry things or throw themselves about the place. This is all part of emptying the bucket so support that. It is not okay for them to hurt people or damage things but let them express themselves with their body as they need to.
  • Sitting with your child and listening to their big feelings is difficult at the best of times, it is especially difficult if it triggers certain feelings for you. If you find it hard to keep your cool while listening, but you want to, get some help with that.
  • When you can hear your child start to calm down, stay close and let them know you are there and ready for a hug when they are.
  • When they have sufficiently emptied the bucket (calmed down enough to talk) let them know that their sandwich is still available for them DO NOT make a different sandwich or offer an alternative option.
  • Let them know that it is not okay to throw food on the floor, throw a cup at Daddy or whatever it was they did that was not okay, ask them what they could do instead, next time they feel angry.

Normalising and validating emotions is really important learning for our kids. It is part of teaching them emotional regulation – It is okay to be angry but it is not okay to release your anger in hurtful ways.

This work can be difficult to put into practice with our kids. As I have said before, there is no one sized fits all approach as there is no one size fits all family.

Listening to our kid’s feelings is important for all families, but how we manage that and how it impacts us personally will be different for everyone. If you struggle with this please don’t be disheartened, seek support to work through the barriers or difficulties this brings up for you.

If these ideas resonate with you and you would like further support, please book a session with me HERE so we can get started on bringing a sense of calm and confidence to your interactions with your kids.