Living in Florida, I extensively and comprehensively understand flip flops. I know which ones feel best, which ones are water friendly, and which kind never to buy. Floridians are also accused of wearing them in the middle of winter, because it is what we do. 🙂 However, I was surprised to hear about emotional flip flops a while back on the radio. It drew my attention because it happens so often, but I never had a term for it before.
An emotional flip flop is when you take a soft emotion that you are feeling inside, and turn it into a hard emotion that you verbally express. The example on the radio was:
When your child hurts himself because he was goofing off, instead of saying softly, “Are you okay? I was worried about you.” You yell at him, “Why would you do that?”
This typically happens because our negative emotions override our positive ones. When we are scared and relieved simultaneously, the fear comes out first. When we are both worried and excited, we dwell on the what-ifs. When our kids do something that is dangerous but they are fine, we let anger emerge before compassion. It takes practice for us to manage our emotions well, just as it does kids!
In the parent training that I offer, there are rules of thumb each week. One of my favorites is: ‘When a child is drowning, it is not the time to teach him to swim.’ In other words, when a child is in the moment with overwhelming emotions (they live and breathe based on their feelings!), it is not the time to try to teach a lesson or impart a rule. So, we must be purposeful about expressing positive comments, no matter the situation. Here are three reasons why it is important to replace negative comments with positive ones:
Many parents insist upon and demand respect from their kids, but do not consistently extend respect in the other direction. I was reminded a while back about the frequency with which we use our manners when speaking to our children. We almost always use manners around adults if we ask them to do something. But, we are often quick to forget adding a please or thank you onto our requests directed toward our kids. It is crucial for building a mutually respectful relationship to treat the little beings that are still learning how to demonstrate their manners in a polite and considerate way.
Kids must practice self-regulation, self-control, and remaining positive when things go wrong. Much of this practice comes from witnessing and observing adults in their lives when they are facing a situation that is challenging. When kids watch parents react and respond, it teaches them about their options related to the world around them.They quickly understand that their growing world view hinges on interactions with others and experiences. They also learn that they can yell or speak softly, stay calm or lose control, and express love or aggression. The more you expose them to calm, neutral, and respectful interactions no matter the circumstance, the more they adopt those behaviors as their own.
Another major piece of the puzzle is kids connecting their experiences to their emotions. When a child gets hurt because he was goofing off, the injury already taught him the lesson. He already feels badly that he did something that wasn’t a good idea. He already understands that there are consequences to actions. But what he may not realize is that you understand what he is feeling. If he is chastised, corrected, or taught a lesson in the moment, he doesn’t understand that you know how badly it hurt or how badly he feels. Reflecting his feelings allows you to acknowledge his emotions in a positive interaction, validating his experience.
Any time your child experiences a challenging situation, you have the opportunity to remain positive, calm, and respectful. This not only allows your relationship with your child to develop and grow with healthy interaction, but it also helps your child to communicate effectively. Because, in reality, both children and adults need to practice and be purposeful about controlling their emotions, speaking politely, and being respectful to everyone all the time.