Being a kid can be tough. Working through developmental milestones while learning social skills and navigating and establishing boundaries is a hard job. Growing in strength and intelligence and trying to fit in with the world around you takes a lot of energy. And, many times, the lessons you finally learn are because you had to be corrected or made a mistake. Parents often forget what a confusing and exhausting job it is to be a kid.
Like adults, when children have a tough day, it can affect everyone around them. Children often respond to stress with tantrums, moodiness, anger, or sadness. If you think about it, we adults respond the same way. However, as adults, most of us have developed techniques we use to calm ourselves after a bad day. Kids don’t have the self-awareness or maturity to develop those coping techniques. So we, parents, need to help them develop ways to calm down and process their emotions.
Here are some ways you can help your kids navigate tough days.
How to Help Your Child When They Have a Tough Day
1. First and foremost, be there for them.
Every child needs a safe place to land. They need to know without a shadow of a doubt that they have someone they can turn to for comfort. It is your job to be that person. Whether they need a big hug or a bit of a cry before they can talk to you about their day, let them know that’s okay. Sometimes, all it takes is a mom or dad’s comforting presence to help a child calm down. Being there for them is the first step in helping them get through anything.
2. Remind them that it’s okay to have a tough day.
Everyone has bad days. We all suffer at one point or another from a really crap-tastic day. Whether it’s from our own mistakes or attitudes or someone else’s decisions, everyone has a rough go of it. And it’s okay. Remind your child that tough days will happen. Remind them that it’s how we respond to the tough times that make a difference. Assure them that even mom and dad have bad days sometimes. They are not alone, and you will help them work through it.
3. Allow them to vent to you about their day.
Sometimes, all we need is someone we can tell our story to. Sometimes we need someone to witness our frustration and let us know it’s normal to feel the way we do. Let your child share what is bothering them with you if they choose. Did they get bullied at school? Did they hurt someone’s feelings? Are they feeling left out or pressured? Did they have to share when they didn’t want to? Did they fail an important test? Whatever it is that has them feeling down, encourage them to talk about it with you so you both can process it together.
4. Empathize with how they’re feeling.
Children can have big emotions about things that adults see as insignificant. And in the grand scheme of things, perhaps their struggle is silly or unimportant . . . to us. To them, however, it is a huge deal. And we need to be aware and empathetic to how they’re feeling, regardless of how we view it. Let your child tell you how they’re feeling, and then repeat back to them how you understand what they feel.
For example, my son came to me the other day and said he was sad because he felt left out by his siblings. I asked him to explain the situation. He said he wanted to play a particular game, but his siblings wanted to play another game. So they played it without him. I tried to be empathetic by responding, “I understand that you feel left out. It’s frustrating when you want to play something no one else wants to play. That must make you feel sad.” He agreed. I then offered a solution.
“I know you want to play this certain game, but if they don’t want to play that right now, you can’t force them to do it. How about you let them play what they’re playing for ten minutes. If you want to join them in their game, you should! But if you don’t, let’s find something else you like to do for that ten minutes. Then we can ask them if they’d like to play your game next. Can we try that?” My son felt validated by my understanding of his frustration. And we came up with a solution he could live with. For us, this strategy worked that day!
5. If they made a mistake, talk through it.
Often, kids can be hard on themselves for making a mistake. If they get in trouble or feel embarrassed for messing up, it can affect their mood and self-esteem for the rest of the day, if not longer. It’s our job as parents to help them understand that making mistakes is normal and how we learn to do better. Try to encourage your child to talk about their mistake and how it makes them feel. Then encourage them to do what needs to be done to correct it. Do you need to apologize? Do you need to forgive? Should you do something differently next time? Talk it out. And then tell them how proud you are of them for admitting their mistake and thinking of ways to learn from it!
6. Help them strategize for future bad days.
We will all have bad days. And the sooner we learn to cope with them, the better it will be for all of us! When your child has had a tough day, it’s important to remind them that bad days will happen. But also encourage them to strategize a way to cope with the bad days so they won’t be so hard to handle in the future. Talk with your child about techniques that will help them calm down and get through the day. Do they need to be alone for a few minutes? Do they need to do an activity to take their mind off things (reading, coloring, going for a walk)? Maybe they need to talk to mom or their teacher privately? Whatever it is they think they might need to help them get through a bad day, help them make a plan for coping.
7. Remind them that they are loved.
Just as they need to know you are there for them, they also need to know they are loved. No matter what. Kids need to know they will not lose your love by having a tough day. After you have sat down and walked through these steps with them, don’t forget to give them a nice, long hug and tell them that you love them. Always. Without condition.
Using these steps to help your child navigate their tough days will help them develop the skills they need to cope with what life throws at them. While being a kid is hard, becoming an adult is harder. Knowing how to cope with and process the emotions of a tough day will serve them well as they grow.