Thursday, January 26, 2012

Helping Kids Handle Emotions

People often ask me how my seven year old son handles my mental illness. We have always been open with our son about my illness. Because kids always feel responsible for what is going on at home, I felt it was very important that he know no matter how I am doing, he is not responsible for my mental state. He needs to know that when I am upset or sad, it is part of my illness and not a result of something he did. Jeffrey seems to understand this pretty well and has gotten used to the times when Mommy is anxious, mad, or sad. He doesn't usually talk about my illness and when I am having a hard time he knows some of the things we can do to help me. He is actually really great at helping me stay on my treatment plan. He is the best at making sure I don't eat any ice cream from the freezer! Today though I noticed that he really does see and understand more than he says.

When I picked him up from school he got in the car and said "Today was the worst day in my life. I feel bad today Mommy." I asked him what was wrong and he said "Not like that. I feel bad like you feel a lot of the time." He was clearly able to articulate that there is a difference between physically feeling bad and emotionally feeling bad. I could tell he was in a bad mood and sad so I asked him if he felt sad and angry. He said yes and he didn't want to go to soccer tonight because he felt so bad. So I told him when I feel that way it is always best to do something I like so he should go to soccer because after he gets there, he will like it. So he asked me "What else do you do to feel better Mommy." Then we thought up a plan together to put him in a better mood and get ready for soccer.
Jeffrey at soccer. Photo by Jeff Norris

One of the hard things about having mental illness and having kids is that when something like this happens, you worry your child might have your illness. However, we have to remember that our problems are not their problems. Worrying they may have an illness means we run the risk of giving them more problems than they really have and over analyzing them. Instead we need to remember they are just kids learning to navigate life. If something really is wrong it will show up at home and at school and if you are talking to their teachers, they will let you know.

So, don't panic when your kids are having a hard time. Use your knowledge of how to handle emotions and share that with your kids. Let them know that we will all feel sad or angry at times and there are things we can do to handle those emotions and not let them ruin our day. 


Rev. Katie

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