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Two words you didn't realize are hurting your child
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You are helping your six-year-old child get ready for their first day at a new school. While sitting down for breakfast, your child hangs their head and with tears in their eyes, and says, I dont want to go to school."

You might say something like, Its OK. Youll make new friends. I think youll like it there.

You have good intentions. Youre only trying to cheer them up, but what you dont know is that these two words Its OK are actually hurting them. With these small little words, you are casually dismissing your child's emotions.

Research has shown that understanding the emotional source of your childs behavior can help parents as problems arise. Children who cannot turn to their parents to be understood feel vulnerable, a lifestyle Dr. John Gottman calls a make believe home." To avoid raising vulnerable and emotionally closed children, Gottman produced a five-step plan to help parents know how to approach their childs emotions.

Heres what he urges parents to do:

Step 1: Be aware of your childs emotion

Watch what your child says and does. What does it say about how they are feeling? Your child might not be able to fully express how they feel with words, so it is important for you as the parent to look out for and identify their emotions through their actions.

Step 2: Recognize their expression as a teaching moment

Dont view their emotions as something that must be dealt with. Use this as an opportunity to teach them how they are feeling. Teach your children how to recognize what it means to be upset or nervous and recognize what has made them feel this way. The next three steps will describe how to do just that.

Step 3: Validate your childs feelings

Listen to and validate their feelings. In the situation described above, you could respond by saying, You must miss your friends. You must be feeling nervous about starting at a new school and meeting new people.

Once youve validated their feelings, let them add to that if theyd like to. Now that they know you understand them, they might feel more open to sharing their thoughts.

Step 4: Help them label their emotions

Gottmans research showed that children who are new to certain experiences are unable to comprehend what they are going through, and why they feel the way they do. Putting words to this new situation can help them understand that their feelings are normal.

Try to be specific when labeling their emotions. There is quite a difference between feeling mad and irate. Choosing specific words can help your child better express their feelings in the future.

Step 5: Set limits while helping your child problem-solve

Consider solutions to the problem. For example, for the situation above, you could suggest inviting neighborhood kids over on Saturday afternoon. You could also offer to drive your child to school instead having them ride the bus to subside first-day jitters.

Let your child come up with possible solution too, but remember to set limits. Make it clear that youll drop them off for the first two days of school, but that they will need to take the bus after that. Work together to make sure you both are understood emotionally, and come up with solutions you both agree with.

By implementing these five steps, your child will feel understood, and you as a parent will be better able to support them as you work through their emotions together.