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You Are Here: How to Diffuse Big Feelings

Anyone with someone small in the house knows how BIG the feelings can be. As parents, we commit all sorts of unconscionable crimes: we deliver a pancake in the wrong shape; put the ketchup on the pasta instead of next to it (and yes, we’ve agreed to ketchup on pasta); we’ve put the wrong sock on first.
The Big Feelings come. As parents and as human beings, we may be inclined to do all sorts of things to make it right for our little ones, or (I’ll write in hushed tones) to just make it stop. In my experience, very few of the “fixes” work when we’re already in BigFeelingLand.
What’s tempting to do in these moments is to try to adjust the pancake/scrape off the pasta/remove the offending sock. Bad news, though: it’s usually too late. Alternatively, in our frustration, we might tell our child (hopefully in kind terms) to find a way to deal with it. Or, we might hush the child with reassurance that “It’ll be okay” (although he or she will be quick to tell you that it certainly won’t be okay).
Fortunately, I have a map to help you with this familiar, yet almost always hard, territory.
You. Are. Here.
Whether you caused the Big Feelings or not, You. Are. Here. Take a few moments to remove your adult glasses and be present. Notice the intensity of your child’s feelings (um, how could you miss them?), and really notice them. Let yourself feel empathy before rushing to solve the problem.
Let your child see that You. Are. Here. Get as physically close as your child will allow and be still; be present with the feelings (yours and your child’s). Your silence and presence, even amidst your child’s emotional chaos, is an incredible healer.
Then, let your child hear that You. Are. Here. The most powerful words in our house are “I understand.” Like all of us, children long to be heard when something doesn’t go their way; they long to be “seen” as valid, including for what seem to be their most nonsensical feelings.
You. Are. Here.
At this point, you may or may not gain any points for fixing the problem that started it all; often, it’s about letting their frustrations out, more than making things “right” (but do offer to rectify the situation if your action caused the distress).
What matters most, and what they’ll remember most, is that You. Were. Here.

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