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Back to School. Back to Big Emotions.

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By Caroline Oas

It’s that time of year again! Back to school. It’s safe to say that this season comes with its fair share of changes – new grades, new friends, new teachers, new time to set the alarm in the morning. This time of year also often brings with it new and stronger emotional responses from our kids.

As kids enter new routines and get busier each week, parents tend to see an uptick in emotional outbursts, anxiety attacks, anger tirades, and many other behaviors. Sound familiar? We may try to reason with our child (It’s just soccer practice. You normally love soccer!), or provide a different perspective (It’s just one bad test, you’ll get a better grade next time!). But around this time of year, those tools may come up short.

Even if it’s not stated out loud, at times when frustration hits an all-time high, it can be tempting to feel like there’s something wrong with our kids. When their emotions seem out-of-proportion with the situation at hand, and we’re not sure what to do, it’s often easy to blame the child as “overly emotional” or going through a phase.

In reality, though, these emotional responses from our kids in this season of change and transition are often cluing us in to an unmet need. If we shift our questioning from “what’s wrong with my child?” to “what’s happened to my child?” everything changes. It’s as if we move across the room and look at our child from a different perspective.

When we ask what is wrong with our child, we’re unknowingly looking to find fault, or we’re looking to blame them. When we ask “what’s happened,” we begin to look for all the other factors in our child’s world that might be pushing them over the edge. Sure, it’s “just soccer practice,” but if they got a bad grade on a test at school, couldn’t find a spot at the lunch table, and feel worried that their friends are changing and feeling left out, coming home in need of rest and finding out there’s soccer practice could be the final thing that pushes them over the edge.

This perspective shift pushes us to look at the “underneath” emotions, not just the ones we can see. To return to the example, our child may be angry that there’s soccer practice and they didn’t know about it. They may stomp and scream and run to their room, slamming the door. From the outside, that looks like anger. But taking the time to shift to a “what’s happened” perspective might push a parent to sit down with the child and connect for five minutes before discussing soccer practice. This could look like a snack time, a quick walk around the block together, or a simple long, strong hug. After connecting and providing a needed transition moment, the parent may discover the multiple things that made this day hard, and that the underneath feeling is not anger, but instead worry or fear.

By asking “what’s happened,” we allow our child space to find their own voice, and we help them identify how they’re feeling. It might not change the fact that soccer practice is still on the calendar, but it may change the child’s ability to manage their emotions and feel confident in who they are.

For more information about specific after school practices you can do to provide that connecting moment with your child, you can check out the book “I Love You Rituals” by Becky Bailey, or read this helpful article.


About Caroline Oas: Caroline is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Kansas specializing in Child-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT) with children aged 4-10. She holds a Certificate in Play Therapy from MNU. Caroline also works with teenagers using a person-centered approach and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques. She is passionate about working with young people and helping them find inner healing and purpose. Caroline is currently accepting new clients. In addition to her work, Caroline is a wife, dog mom to Winnie and Oliver, Dunkin Donuts enthusiast and follower of Jesus.

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