Helpful and Hurtful Words, Part 2

Helpful and Hurtful Words, Part 2


Little Johnny yelled at the dog for needing to go outside.  Dad walked over and narrated the event, matched his son’s affect and said, “It sure is hard having to stop everything and take the dog out when you are busy.  Kind of makes you mad doesn’t it.”  Johnny responded to dad’s understanding with acceptance.  Dad encouraged Johnny by identifying the part of Johnny that loves his dog.  Johnny agreed and took the dog out.  Later that evening when Johnny had to do his homework, Dad narrated again how scary math can be especially when you have to work at it.  Dad reminded him that his teacher gave the class an appendix for these problems.  Dad offered to play basketball with his son when homework is finished.

Before addressing a child’s disruptive behaviors, parents must be emotionally regulated.  If not, the parent may appear angry and sound punitive; thus, reinforcing the child’s negative internal working model (NIWM).  In this example, Dad realized his son needed him to help create understanding about why he was angry and find ways to calm.

Another Element (2) to helping parents remain emotionally regulated is to avoid elevating anger (secondary emotion) over sadness or fear (primary emotion). If parents name the primary emotion and link it to the event, then children will understand their internal struggles.  Examples of inaccurate and less than helpful statements would be:

  • I am just mad
  • There’s no sadness or scared
  • He did that because he was mad
  • there is no reason for him to be sad or scared
  • He got mad then he…

These can be replaced with:

  • I was scared (or sad) when…
  • Everyone feels scared and sad
  • All emotions are okay, it’s how you react to them that can cause problems
  • He got mad because he was scared (or sad)

Questions for self-regulation

To increase emotional regulation, parents can answer the following questions, calm themselves, and then approach their children.  This will allow the parent to be open to their child’s needs.

  1. What is happening inside of me?
  2. What is happening inside of my child?
  3. What does this behavior mean about me?
  4. What does this behavior mean about my child?
  5. What is my goal?
  6. What do I want to teach?
  7. What is the best way for my child to learn what I want to teach?
  8. Will our relationship be improved or hurt?

HELPFUL statements that build relationships and a healthier sense of self

I statementsPart of me was really scared when that car pulled out in front of me
You statementsIt seems like a part of you wants to go and a part does not
They statementsThey are scared they won’t win the game

Look at the character on TV! Part of him wants to ___ and the other part wants to ___

Statements that name the primary emotion of sadness or fear underneath mad

I statementsI was mad because I was afraid of failing the test

I turned it into mad right away and yelled at the other driver
You statementsWhat are you afraid of? You look mad
They statementsThat character is really mad! What do you think he’s scared of?

Statements that attribute behavior to trauma history

I statementsWhen I was a kid, I was in an accident. Now I get scared quickly when I drive
You statmentsI’m wondering if you used your mad to get your mom to pay attention to you
They statementsThis is the 4th school Jimmy has attended. I bet he is afraid of being left out.

© 2019 – 2021, Faye Hall. All rights reserved.

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