Tolerating emotions can be described as our ability to “be with” our own and other’s emotions in real time while these emotions are occurring within ourselves and others. By learning how to “be with” and emotionally available to our own and our children’s emotions we enhance our capacity for compassion problem solving. We live in a world where the focal point is often the observable behavior, which often results in the illusion that managing or controlling behavior is the solution. In theory, behaviors play by simple rules. To increase a preferred behavior, you reinforce the behaviors you like. To decrease non-preferred behaviors, you consequent the behaviors you do not like. We can easily make rules around behaviors. The “do’s” and “do nots” of life. Every school/employee handbook is full of rules to manage behavior. Laws are rules to manage behavior. We need rules and laws. In a behavioral approach parents are guided to teach children to perform in a certain way to help them understand what to do in a specific situation. A behavioral approach can be highly effective way to teach a skill, especially when the child’s challenge is based in a lack of know-how and their emotional system is regulated and they feel calm. However, when a child is routinely struggling to regulate his emotional system and the child is NOT feeling calm, rarely does a rational explanation (no matter how simple or practical the advice is) help diminish emotional distress.
What makes behaviors more complex is the fact that emotions drive behaviors and emotions play by different rules than behaviors. Unlike behaviors, there are no “do-not’s” with emotions. Emotions are neither right or wrong, good or bad. Behaviors can be seen and addressed as right or wrong, good or bad. Unlike behaviors we cannot choose which ones are going to engage based on our experiences. Unlike behaviors we are born with our emotions and we will live everyday of our lives with our emotions. In order to develop more sophisticated behavioral responses to our emotions and the ability to access these responses we need to learn how to tolerate or “be with and make sense of” our emotions. We do not choose our emotions. We choose our behaviors based on our emotions. Making this paradigm shift can alter how we choose to parent and educate children (and ALL people) in a manner that builds higher self-esteem, self-confidence, and stronger relational connections. We all become better problem solvers when we seek to understand the emotional forces driving our behaviors. Children need trusted adults to guide them in this area of their development. Children need their parents to “be with” them and model acceptance and compassion for ALL their feelings while building on positive behaviors and setting limits on negative behaviors. The more practice parents get at learning to attune to their own and their child’s emotional state the more parents report feeling competent at meeting their child’s emotional needs as well as their own. The more practice children get with partnering and coordinating with a trusted adult the more self-esteem, self-confidence and creative problem solving they exhibit.
Suggestion for the month:
Practice becoming aware of how your child’s feelings and behaviors impact how you feel. Take note of which emotions you are able to be with and reflect on as they occur in yourself and your children. Additionally, take note of which emotions you find challenging and difficult to “be with” and reflect on as they occur in yourself and your children. As your awareness about which emotions you can “be with” and which emotions you struggle to “be with” grows, practice extending your tolerance by staying present. As you build your capacity to “be with” your own and your children’s more challenging emotions, see if you develop any additional insights and patterns of engagement that are helpful to you and your family.
There are an unlimited amount of behaviors that we all use to get through life. There are finite number of emotions within us (i.e. Fear, Anger, Sad, Disgust and Joy). These five core emotions (we have many names to describe them and the various levels of intensity) are the driving forces of our behaviors. Appreciating that emotions drive as well as prioritize how and when information is processed within our brains can intuitively shift the way we understand and respond to the behaviors exhibited by our children. Learning the relational power of validating emotions is a strategy parents learn to use at PACE Place.
Validating emotions: One of the single most effective ways to help ANYONE learn to navigate their emotions is to validate them. Emotions are NOT behaviors. They are feelings. They are with us at birth and remain with us our entire lives. Unlike behaviors, emotions are never right or wrong. Unlike behaviors, emotions are neither be good or bad. Emotions exist on a continuum between easy and hard to regulate. The more we relate to our children through their emotions and our own throughout our daily interactions the more at ease we become with talking about how we feel. Learning to validate and normalize emotions is a powerful way to put children at ease. It is important to limit the role emotions have to determine whether or not an activity was to occur. However, we SHOULD allow our children’s emotional responses to influence HOW we do something.
Suggestion for the month:
Seeing behavior through the emotional lens: Over the course of the next month observe your own and other’s behaviors and consider which emotions are driving those behaviors. As you gain insight as to the emotional forces driving the behaviors you are observing you may start to feel an intuitive ability to respond and/or engage others AND yourself more creatively.