Big Emotions Are Inescapable

Raise your hand if you have ever had a bad day and shouted at someone because they were a little too annoying. *raises hand* 

Raise your hand if you’ve sobbed into your pillow and/or screamed at your deity of choice because of problems you caused for your own dang self. *raises other hand*

Raise your hand if you have never, ever acted out because of negative emotions.

Hmm. No one? Bueller? Bueller? (oh my gosh, I just really dated myself didn’t I?)

My point is this: we all have bad days. They are as inevitable as the sunrise. I’m so sorry to all of you perfectionists out there that really really don’t want to do the wrong thing. I know you’re beating yourself up for that one time when you snapped at your 8-year-old (“No, I don’t know where your lunch box is because it’s your lunch box and I didn’t use it!”). You didn’t mean to make her sad. I know you went back and apologized, but it still happened. I also know it probably happened because emotions piled up and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or maybe I’m just projecting. 

Here’s the thing: Our kids, especially our adopted kids, struggle with impulse control. Their prefrontal cortex won’t be fully developed until they are in their twenties or even later if there was severe trauma early in life. Things like developmental delay, sensory processing disorders, ADD, ADHD, and Autism can make it even harder to control emotions. And not even we, the adults, can keep our mess together sometimes. Why do we expect our kids, who have struggled through so much, not to lose it once in a while–or even, like, daily? We can’t. The best we can do is help them manage those big emotions. Here are a few ways that work for my family. 

Helpful Coping Strategies

  • Have a safe, quiet place, with no hard projectiles (books, blocks, hangers, skates, shoes, etc. All of those have been chucked at my head in moments of rage); find a place where they can calm down, ideally away from other kids, and where you can sit and exist with them. 
  • Encourage them to talk to you about their feelings when you notice they seem off. Sometimes (not always), letting a little of the pressure off means they won’t blow up later. Or, at least if they do blow up, you have some context of why and can help them work through their emotions more effectively.
  • Participate in therapy or counseling. I’m not, like, trying to fit a stereotype or anything; it’s just a fact: I struggle with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and sensory processing issues. I may have a degree in psychology, but I am in no way capable of dealing with all of my kid’s mental health concerns. Professionals who are well versed in adoption, foster care, trauma-informed care, and attachment disorders are worth their weight in gold. Truly. Find a good counselor to help you and your child. 
  • Exercise regularly. I don’t like this any more than you, but your whole family needs regular exercise, even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood or 10 minutes of yoga. My daughter will lose her mind if she doesn’t get enough running around time. She cannot physically contain herself, and her emotions take the brunt of her restless energy. If it’s raining outside, I sometimes drag a mini trampoline out so she can watch cartoons while bouncing. It is important for her body and her brain. If I don’t work out at least three times a week for an hour or so, my depression becomes almost unbearable. It’s something I’ve learned about myself, and I try to remember that when I notice my kids struggling, they might just need to move a little. 
  • Take a time out. You, not your kid. Sometimes it is our bad attitude, snappy tone, or anger that is causing our kids’ big emotional blow-outs. I’m not saying you need to lock yourself in the bathroom with some strategically-hidden dark chocolate, but I’m also not telling you not to. Sometimes, life’s a lot to handle. Too much, even. Do what you need to do to make yourself a safe, stable person for your kid. Adoption comes with a lot of complicated emotions from which you are not exempt. 
  • Invest in stress-relieving toys: stress-relieving–not stress-causing. I cannot stand the noise of some of those popper toys. I. Cannot. Deal. Same for any repetitive clicking sound. Try squishy toys, fidget cubes, stress balls, stretchy bracelets, or big body pillows to hug. Also, while they’re not toys, noise-canceling headphones are a miracle. Sometimes, my youngest just can’t stand all the noise in our house. We have ear protection that she’ll just stick on her head and go about her business. It mutes enough sound so it isn’t overwhelming, and the pressure helps too. I use noise-canceling headphones and audiobooks to block out the worst of the noise, especially when I’m trying to do something like preparing dinner. I don’t need to be focused on the kids at that time, and drowning out the noise of them running around and playing (and screaming) often saves my sanity.
  • Be available. The older they get, the more I assume my kids don’t want to talk to me about their problems. I try to encourage them to share how their day went. I assure them I’ll talk to their teacher if there was a negative peer interaction. I hug them, hold their hand, and let them know I’m there, even if I can’t solve their problem directly. And sometimes I’m lucky, and that’s all they needed in the first place. 
  • Don’t shy away from conversations, even awkward, weird ones. I know you’ve probably heard about their Minecraft village 1000 times, and you might want to gouge your ears out if you have to hear about it again. That’s not what I’m talking about. We all have limits. But do lean into conversations about their emotions, their friends, their school day, or anything else they feel is important.  It may seem stupid, but it matters to them. 

Those are just a few things that we do to help our children handle their difficult emotions. Sometimes, all we can do is wait out the storm. I have to remind myself again that they are human, and I do the same thing sometimes. They deserve patience, too.