Tackling Tantrums – Raising Emotionally Agile Kids Emotional agility is the art of navigating difficult and painful emotions

Parenting is a tough job and dealing with a child’s tantrums comes with the territory. Most of us would have experienced that embarrassing and cringe-worthy moment when our child/children have a very public meltdown. It takes all our internal resources to avoid getting triggered and help our child calm down and move on to a composed state of mind.

Emotional agility, according to bestselling author-psychologist, Susan David is the ability to adapt to stressful situations with ease and competence.

Princess Charlotte tantrum mother parenting emotional agility
Emotional Agility: How to stay calm and tackle your child’s tantrum

How we deal with our child’s tantrums is the blueprint for how they later handle difficult and stressful times as an adult. However, it is not something that can be taught it is imbibed through attuned parenting.

Being able to deal with our emotions, the good, bad and the ugly is the single most important factor that influences every aspect of our life. And teaching, no allowing our child space and opportunity to feel their emotions powerfully impact their sense of well-being and confidence.

How does one become emotionally agile? Is it different from emotional intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence v/s Emotional Agility

What really is the difference between Emotional Intelligence or Emotional Quotient, (EQ) and Emotional Agility (EA).

EQ is the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments.

EA, on the other hand, is the ability to navigate and move through difficult emotions without getting stuck in that state of mind. Basically, it means not feeling bad about negative feelings and being able to appropriately express, regulate, and manage them.

Emotional agility is the top tier of the emotional intelligence paradigm. We may be aware of our feelings but how we process our emotions defines our personality.

Difficult/disordered personalities are those people whose feelings were invalidated as kids. Thus, they did not get the opportunity to learn how to deal with their emotions. They had to suppress and deny their true feelings.

Validating Your Child’s Emotions

In her illuminating book, Keeping Your Child in Mind, Dr. Claudia Gold shares 4  crucial ways parents need to address a child’s tantrum and diffuse an explosive situation:

  1. Understanding a child’s behavior from the perspective of his stage of development
  2. Empathizing with a child’s feelings
  3. Containing and regulating both the feeling and behavior
  4. The most difficult, staying present with a child without letting one’s own distress get in the way.

Hence, when parents do this repeatedly a child learns to understand his own mind. He develops the ability to regulate intense emotions, think clearly and manage himself in a complex social world. He has the emotional agility to regulate himself and deal with his environment.

Feelings Matter

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to our kid’s feelings.  Moreover, when we ignore, repress or shame them for their emotions they are not going to be able to develop the skills to overcome that emotion.

Remember, emotions are data about their internal thought process. There is no good or bad child Rather we must learn to see a problem from our child’s point of view. Respecting and acknowledging your child’s feelings goes a long way in making them feel valued. Feeling valued is the key to self-confidence.

I remember once griping to my mother that she favored my brother over me. Instead of vehement denial, she calmly stated that it was just not true and that she was only being fair to my brother giving him an allowance because I got regular inputs from my father. She elaborated saying, ‘You know he does not ask for money.’ My mother listened and explained why, which diffused my feelings of unfairness.

According to Dr. Gold being truly heard and acknowledged changes a child’s brain and puts them on the path of emotional maturity.

Awareness, acknowledgment, and action are the 3 key factors in addressing any emotionally charged situation or unruly tantrums.

Honoring  Desires & Indulgence

We all want things, a new dress, a car and children are no different. All of us parents have experienced that battle of wits at the supermarket when our child just wants that something. I remember having to deal with a screaming 3-year-old who just wanted to have that toy. It was not a pretty situation and I learned my lesson.

Since then whenever we went shopping, I’d pre-warn my son that he could choose one item below Rs 100/-. It became a game for him checking the prices and deciding what to pick. Allowing child autonomy within a defined framework helps develop their conative skills.

Sharing & Discussing Feelings

Communicating about feelings helps puts things in perspective. Your child shares his point of view and you share yours. When a child has the freedom to express himself, without judgment or shaming he develops a secure sense of who he is. He does not need to throw a tantrum to make his point.

Furthermore, as an adult, he does not have to pretend and accept things that he is not comfortable. His strong inner-compass and emotional agility allow him to navigate through difficult situations and people

Psychologist Susan David states that the way we deal with our emotions shapes everything that matters: our actions, careers, relationships, health, and happiness.

Emotional Agility: Power of emotional courage | Susan David

Tantrums – A Learning Curve

Becoming emotionally agile does not happen overnight. We have to work at it. How we deal with our child’s difficult behavior and tantrums plays a big role in our kids developing this skill.

Parenting is an exercise of mindful patience. We provide them with a secure base and sensitively attune to their needs.

I am not a fan of royalty. However, watching Princess Charlotte’s public meltdown, I was impressed at her mother’s ability to diffuse the tantrum. Her mother stopped, listened, spoke calmly and soothed her. Moreover, the rest of the family also stayed and supported the child. It was one beautiful moment of family togetherness. One is allowed to have feelings and your family won’t judge, berate or shame you.

So next time your child throws a tantrum or is being difficult, get down to his level and listen to what he is feeling, you may be surprised to know the real reason why your child is acting up, Speak calmly,  look him in the eye and make physical contact.

Sometimes your child just needs to know that one’s parents have things under control and there is a solution.  What a child sees, he mirrors

Emotionally agile kids don’t just happen. It takes sensitive and attuned parenting – allowing kids the space to express their feelings without shame or fear.  Tantrums are a normal part of a child’s growing up process. Showing them how to manage and process negative emotions is the key to a successful and happy life.


Image Source: Youtube

Further Reading:

Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life – Susan David

Keeping Your Child in Mind – Claudia Gold

The Silenced Child: From Labels, Medications, and Quick-Fix Solutions to Listening, Growth, and Lifelong Resilience – Claudia Gold

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame – Janet Lansbury

Words That Change Minds: The 14 Patterns for Mastering the Language of Influence – Shelle Charvet

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind – Daniel J. Siegel

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