How To Stay Calm When Your Kids Aren't (Feelings Are Contagious)

emotional management parenting tips raising kids role model May 26, 2022
Stay Calm When Your Kids Are Upset

As a parent, do you feel like your emotions can sometimes drive you to react in a way that you later regret?  When your kids are fighting and emotions are high, do you get sucked into their emotional vortex?  Alternatively, if they are super excited or happy, can they help lift your mood too?  This is no surprise — because as it turns out, emotions are more contagious than a cold or the flu.  

Research has shown that both positive, upbeat feelings like excitement and enthusiasm, as well as negative feelings of anger, anxiety, fear or sadness are easily passed from one person to another — often without either party even being aware that it’s happening.  It can happen in milliseconds, primarily due to our primal instinct to mirror those around us.  We can unconsciously mimic other people’s expressions, and when we adopt those expressions it triggers a reaction in our brains.  Our brain connects that facial expression to that feeling so we end up experiencing the same feelings.

Which emotions are you more likely to catch?

Unfortunately, experts believe that you are more likely to catch negative emotions due to our programmed survival instinct.  Our brains tend to pay more attention to negative emotions like pain and fear, because those might alert us to potential danger.

Why is it important to know emotions are contagious from a parenting perspective?

When children are experiencing heightened negative emotions, we can “catch” their emotions and rise up to meet them at their heightened feelings.  Unfortunately this typically just tends to make the situation worse.  Ideally, we want to do our best to remain calm and bring them back down to join US at our emotional level.

Here are three ways to stay calm and avoid catching the negative feelings of your kids:

  1. Awareness is the first step.  When your kids come to you upset or when they are fighting, you may end up unintentionally rising to match their negative feelings.  Instead, you can consciously work to keep your face neutral and your body relaxed.  This will help you avoid mirroring their body language or facial expressions.
  2. You can put your hand on your heart and take a deep breath.  This instantly helps to calm down your own nervous system.  You can also get your child to take a deep breath with you, and help them to get in the habit of calming themselves down too.
  3. You can ask yourself a powerful question like: How can I best de-escalate the situation and remain calm?  Your brain will answer any question that you ask, the key is to ask a question that will support you in parenting effectively in the moment. 

Emotions are running high for a number of people right now, so it’s more important than ever to be aware and make sure that you aren’t “catching” negative emotions.  I invite you to consciously think about what kind of energy you want to help foster in your home and in your kids.

If your feelings or stress are impacting your life and your parenting — and too often you find that your feelings are controlling you — I will be offering a live virtual workshop on Tuesday, June 28th.  The workshop is on Parenting Through Anxiety, but the tools easily apply to stress and other negative feelings.  Learn how to take anxiety and stress out of your parenting process so you can take back control.  You can sign up here.

** I wrote this article the week before Uvalde, and it’s even more relevant now.  When we as parents are scared, insecure and anxious — our kids know and can “catch” these emotions from us, so please get help if you need it.  I have opened up ½ hour spots on my calendar to help support scared parents.  There is no cost and no obligation, just support.  We will get you out of fear and give you a tool that you can use to help you when it comes up again.  You will also learn how you can help your kids feel more secure.  When you learn tools, you teach them to your kids — this is how we help raise more emotionally healthy kids.  So if you need help please book a call. You don’t need to continue to struggle on your own, I can help. 

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