Navigating Emotional Outbursts – Part 1

Have you ever been at the grocery store and your toddler has a meltdown, complete with ear-splitting screams in aisle 9? Or has your kindergartener ever thrown a temper tantrum at the mall when you wouldn’t buy the latest Frozen accessory? As parents, we have all experienced an emotional outburst at some point in our children’s lives! These frustrating and often stressful episodes can leave us feeling powerless and confused.
You may find yourself asking questions such as, is this behaviour developmentally appropriate? Is my child’s anger normal?
According to the Child Mind Institute, having a meltdown is perfectly normal for most children, especially between the ages of 1 and 3. But how can we as parents help our older children manage their emotional outbursts and meltdowns?
Enter the expert: Joanne Del Core! Joanne is an Emotional Intelligence Strategist who works in the GTA with children, families, day care facilities and schools, helping them learn new ways to deal with emotional outbursts and kids. In this article and subsequent blog posts to follow, Joanne shares her insight into mental health and youth and some strategies for dealing with it.
According to Joanne, there are some startling statistics in Canada dealing with young people and mental health:

  • 50% of mental disorders develop by age 14
  • Only 1 in 5 children in Canada who need mental health services ever actually receives professional help (wait lists are getting longer and longer)
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for young people, after accidents

These statistics tells us that children have high mental health needs that are not being met.  Service options are often very narrow with long wait lists and there are limited training opportunities for parents and educators to gain practical knowledge on emotional intelligence and brain development.
According to Harvard University’s National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, there is an “uneven availability of support for parents and providers of early care and education to deal with common, age-appropriate behavioral challenges, such as discipline and limit.” There is also “limited caregiver and teacher training to evaluate and deal with children who present significant emotional and/or behavioral problems in early care and education programs”. This is particularly alarming in the face of recent evidence of dramatic increases in prescriptions for behavior-modifying medications to treat preschoolers.
How can we understand how our children’s brain development is affected by emotions? According to Joanne Del Core, why kids behave the way they do is based on a complex set of interactions including biological, sociological and psychological factors.
In 2004, the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child released a paper entitled “Children’s Emotional Development is Built into the Architecture of Their Brains”. In this paper, they outlined what exactly emotional intelligence is and includes:

  • the ability to identify and understand one’s own feelings
  • to accurately read and comprehend emotional states in others
  • to manage strong emotions and their expression in a constructive manner
  • to regulate one’s own behaviour
  • to develop empathy for others
  • to establish and sustain relationships

How can we ensure our children develop normal, healthy emotional intelligence? How does a child develop normal emotional intelligence if they don’t have any strong examples of the above in their lives?  In many ways, according to Joanne, we and our children are left to their own devices in this area. Lucky for us, Joanne points out, emotional intelligence is like a muscle that we can develop and master, and thereby improve. Emotional intelligence is not like your IQ or a genetic disease, which is inherited at birth.
Joanne highlights that there are two key items we need to understand about emotional development:

  1. As young children develop, their early emotional experiences literally become embedded in the architecture of their brains and shape them
  2. Emotion is a biologically based aspect of human functioning that is “wired” into multiple regions of the central nervous system so we often underestimate the power of emotions and their impact on brain development

The big question is, how do we, as parents and educators, support our children’s/student’s emotional development? Our next blog article will include some great tips from Joanne Del Core and some insight on how to educate ourselves on our kids’ mental health. Stay tuned!

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