You know the saying, “if momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy”? There’s scientific proof for that statement! Negative feelings from one person can spread through a home, but positive feelings can too.
One of our primary needs in relationships is attunement. Attunement is being able to read and respond to another person’s emotional state. Children learn very early to read their parent’s emotional state. And attuned parents are able to read a child’s emotions and respond to their emotional needs. When someone reads our emotions and reacts to them we feel connected, we feel heard.
Now there’s another aspect to connection in young children and dysregulated children and that is coregulation. For young children or children who have a hard time understanding their own feelings, they look to their parents for signals of how they should feel. Think of when your young child fell and skinned his knee. You responded to his own hurt and scared emotions by examining the knee, giving a hug, brushing him off and assuring him in your expert opinion that he would be ok with a reassuring smile. That met your child’s needs through attunement and also helped your child calm down when he saw that you were not worried.
When your child is having big emotions, both attunement and coregulation are needed. See what your child is saying through his behavior, is he nervous or scared? Respond to those feelings with empathy, but help your child calm with your own behaviors through body language and tone that convey love, acceptance and calm. Drop your shoulders, open your hands so that you are not tense, speak slow and keep your voice low. Your child will feel that calm and will eventually coregulate with your calmness.
If you allow your child’s negative feelings to affect you, things will escalate. If you feel like you need to get louder and stronger than you child, neither one of you will be able to calm in each other’s presence. If you find that you are both escalating in negative emotions, be honest with your child and say you both need a break to calm.
To address the old saying, “if momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy”, know that your family is watching you and are coregulating and attuning even when you aren’t happy. All feelings are ok- even your big emotions. Kids totally understand big feelings, they have plenty themselves and they can learn a lot by watching how you deal with your own negative emotions. Let your children know you have had some things happen that have affected you emotionally- maybe a bad day at work? Tell them how you plan to regulate so that your negative feelings do not affect your relationships at home. This promotes communication, and connection and a teaching moment.
And if momma’s happy, everybody can coregulate!