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Baby Feels Upset and Angry—What Do I Do Now?

As your crawling baby or toddler heads toward the open fireplace, you firmly say, “No! Hot!” As she continues her determined exploration of this interesting item, you repeat your warning. You also move your body to block her from getting to the open fire. Your body, face, and tone of voice must all communicate the same message of danger. Even though her determination seems so cute, avoid smiling or rewarding cuteness when danger is involved. As you read earlier, congruent behavior includes your face, body language, words, and an unbending effort to maintain safety. When she realizes you really mean no, she may communicate her feelings of disappointment and even anger.

Although you may be tempted to say something like “Don’t cry, this isn’t a big deal,” please resist. A wiser plan will be to realize that not getting to play with that fascinating flame feels enormous to her. What do you do when you are terribly disappointed? Maybe you sometimes cry, or at least complain. By accepting her emotions, you accept her legitimate feelings. Therapists tell us that stifling emotions doesn’t work well. A healthier reply might be to say, “You are letting me know that you are disappointed. You can tell me or show me how you feel.”

Through all the future years you hope to share with your child, you want her to feel safe to tell and show you her deepest fears, her most profound dreams, and her terribly painful disappointments. If you are there for her from the beginning, you will build a lifelong foundation to support honest communication. It begins early and must be cultivated with devotion. Below, you can read some suggestions for helping a child deal with negative feelings.

● Encourage her to show how angry she feels by saying, “I can tell that you are disappointed and angry. Tell me (or show me) how upset you feel.” As long as tears remain her only means of expressing herself, your message remains, “It is okay to feel angry. Crying is one way for you to tell me how you are feeling.”

● Following her tears, redirect her by saying, “You feel upset. Let’s take a little break by walking together.” During the walk you can redirect her attention to some new interest.

As she gains a little maturity, you can also encourage her to use the following methods to express anger or upset. Always accept her genuine expressions, whether negative or positive. Many adults need sessions with therapists because, as children, they spent years covering up their feelings. Being aware of the damages caused by denying feelings increases the importance of teaching healthy methods for releasing and expressing deep emotions. Below are a few healthy ways a child can express herself.

● Once your child ceases to eat paint, chalk, markers, and crayons, you can invite her to create a picture showing how her anger looks.

● My daughter, who tended to be dramatic at a young age, did an angry dance to demonstrate her feelings.

● The same child sometimes went to the bass end of the piano to create a sound that represented her negative feelings.


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