I like to put my vulnerabilities out there, up front and center. I started this blog intending to write about building bounce with our children. However, I found that I couldn’t just start it, as this is a skill I am just now learning myself; which makes it hard to write about something in which I still feel like a beginner. (Maybe it’s because parenting is hard, and I don’t feel like I even have my own stuff figured out, let alone my kids.) Regardless, whether beginner or expert, this “building bounce” concept is a vital part of raising joy-filled children.
Last week, Jen introduced “building bounce” as another way to say ’emotional regulation’, or ‘returning to joy’. All three phrases mean the same thing: learning to recover from an upsetting, negative emotion. We talked last month about the importance of attunement, and this building bounce step builds on top of that. In other words, “building bounce is taking attunement to the next level. You will notice some overlap between these habits, because building bounce always starts with attunement, then adds the step of helping our children regulate their emotions.” (p. 39)
I had an opportunity to practice this just the other day with my daughter. I was heading out to spend time with my mom, and I knew my daughter would be disappointed that she didn’t get to come along and have a “girls’ day.” As I was preparing to leave, I shared with her that I knew she would likely feel sad, but that I was going to be going out with Yaya (our nickname for grandmother) and she wouldn’t be able to come this time. I saw her face draw up in sadness, and I walked over and asked if she would like a hug. She nodded and as I hugged her, I told her that we would find another time the three of us could have a girls’ day soon. She took a deep breath and said, “Okay” and a few minutes later she was back to her smiley self.
To be honest, I was a bit surprised that the interaction wasn’t more drawn out, but I realized that I had attuned to an emotion she would likely feel, was with her when she actually felt it, and came up with a way she could return to joy (i.e. go with us next time.) The attunement laid the groundwork for the sadness, and she could get back more quickly to joy.
Sadness is an emotion that is easy for me to be in with my children. It’s an emotion that I have learned to self-regulate. So what do I do when it’s a really difficult emotion for me to stay in, like anger or hopelessness?
In those situations, I will do my best to stay attuned but I also communicate what is going on inside of me. I say something like, “I know you’re upset right now. I would be too. This is a big feeling for you. And to be honest, it’s a big feeling for me too. Let’s spend a few minutes practicing our breathing and quieting ourselves before we continue to talk about it.” Other times I can’t communicate what is going on inside of me, and I often have to leave and come back later to repair. It’s not ideal, but repairing is one of the most important aspects of parenting – especially since we can’t always get it right.
I’ve also found that with these big negative emotions that I’m learning to navigate, it’s important for me to find those friends or support people in my life that can help me co-regulate them. I can ask these people for stories of times when they felt the same emotion and how they returned to joy. It’s important to note that we have to be very careful not to use our children to help us co-regulate our emotions. Building bounce is a one way street from parent to child.
My eldest is highly sensitive and picks up on my emotions easily. He will sometimes try to help by asking what’s wrong and how he can help me. It would be easy for me to let it all out with him, but this places additional burdens on him as a child. My response is, “Yes, I feel ____ and I appreciate you asking. But I’m spending time with Jesus right now to help me process this.” Or, “Thank you for being so caring. I’m upset about ____ but I plan to talk to your dad/a friend about it so they can help me.”
If we did not receive help regulating these big emotions as children, we will still need help regulating them as adults. This is where it takes some intentional work to find people who can regulate those feelings, and ask them to share their stories with us. It’s also where, as believers, we will need to ask Immanuel to show us those places and speak to us in them. We also have to learn what things can help us return to joy after upsetting emotions. Things like taking a walk, deep breathing exercises, writing in a journal, or even coloring, can help us get back online.
The last, but one of the most important things, about building bounce is emotional vocabulary. As we are teaching our children how to emotionally regulate, it’s vital that we help them find the words for those feelings. A great tool that we have used in our house as a game and resource is this Feelings in a Flash flashcard game. It not only has words for a variety of emotions, but also has scenarios to ask kids how they would feel or react in situations. For extra training in non verbal skills (and some laughs), try to act those situations out as a game of charades.1