How Understanding Emotions Helps Us Become Better Parents

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Emotions wield incredible power over us. 

One moment, we feel in control; the next, our kids start fighting, or we receive that unexpected email, and it completely alters our state of mind.

Our ability to manage these emotional ‘jolts’ impacts not only our own well-being but also that of those around us.  As parents, not only are we modeling for our children, but we are also administering or deflecting the emotional jolts that impact their well-being.  Learning how to engage more positively with our emotions will help us – and our children — build emotional resilience.

So, what exactly are emotions?

Emotions are energy in motion.  Emotions come into our body and prompt us to act.  Our actions result from an intricate web of influences we have experienced in our lives, including how our family modeled emotional management, our culture, friends, experiences, and even media, such as TV, movies, and social media. 

We have learned that women can’t be angry and men can’t be sad (until thank you the Kelce brothers).  Based on how we have learned to process our own emotions, we may suppress our negative emotions, only then to have them surface later when we get hungry, tired, or “triggered” by our spouse or child. 

What is emotional well-being?

Emotional well-being resembles navigating a highway with rumble strips.  Negative emotions, like the rumble strips, serve as warnings, prompting us to pause and reassess. Do we notice them and course correct, or do we drive right through and get stuck in the weeds? 

Emotional well-being means we are engaged positively with our emotions. In simple terms, emotional well-being is the practice of employing strategies so we don’t get ensnared by our negative emotions (aka “stuck in the weeds”).

How can we develop emotional well-being?

We all have emotions we struggle to deal with. 

What emotion(s) in the chart below are YOU uncomfortable feeling?

Imagine an emotional spectrum where the middle represents our ‘window of tolerance’ (Daniel Siegel), the zone where we can effectively manage our emotions. On one end, you have chaos, where emotions overwhelm and disorient us. When we are in chaos, we can feel overwhelmed, become controlling, or say things that are hurtful because the chaos in our brain comes out as energy in another way.

On the other end, there’s rigidity, where emotions are suppressed or denied. When we are in a state of rigidity, we will do whatever works for us to keep us from feeling. In either case, our emotions push us beyond our “window,” and we aren’t able to tolerate feeling the discomfort.

How can we develop a wider “window of tolerance?”

Improving our well-being starts by noticing emotions vs. simply reacting to them. We can notice where the emotions surface in our body. Does our chest get tight? Do our palms get sweaty?

Which emotion did you identify?  Expanding our window of tolerance means being more tolerant of ourselves in 3 key ways when we encounter that emotion:

  1. Being Brave – “I can sit with and allow myself to feel the emotion without judgment.”
  2. Being Curious – “I can ask myself what I might do differently than my first/past reaction(s).”
  3. Being Kind – “I can be patient and kind to myself (and others).”

How does understanding emotions helps us be better parents?

By increasing our own emotional well-being, we can develop the emotional resilience skills that we want our children to develop:

  • We can let the doubt and anxiety show up and step into the ring anyway. 
  • We can ask for help and know it’s ok.
  • We can delegate. 
  • We can hit the rumble strips of life and not stay in the weeds.

Because if we don’t have the skills to tolerate our own uncomfortable feelings, how can we model those skills for our children?

To learn more about emotional well-being, tune into our webinar by Mary Cahilly, MA, LMHC, LPC, CCTP on this topic.

This blog was adapted from Mary’s talk at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires titled Mixed Emotions – Making Peace with Your Head and Heart.