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To Get Through to Your Child or Teen, Follow Emotional Age instead of Supposed To's.

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

Today I'm going to talk about an important strategy for getting through to

your child or teen. Yes, it works for all ages. It's to let emotional age instead of "supposed to's" guide your response to your kiddo when that here we go again feeling hits.

Let's start with the Cliff notes on emotional age.

See your child as having three different ages.

Chronological or developmental age - based on their birthday

Cognitive age - based on intellectual development

Emotional age - The developmental age of your child emotionally

I believe emotional age is the least understood and the missing piece for getting through to your child when they are acting out or not listening.

When your child is stressed, anxious or overwhelmed their 3 ages will get out of sync. This can be wicked confusing and frustrating!

They can act emotionally younger...

Like Julie's 5 year old who started putting up a big fight about going to the bathroom at bedtime and wanted to be carried. Though hesitant, Julie was willing to try carrying her as I suggested and the report I got back was that her daughter gave her the biggest smile ever when she put her down on the potty and Julie felt amazing. Her daughter started going on her own not long after that!

It’s not an act. When your child or teen is dysregulated, their emotional age is in the driver's seat. They are needing comfort and regulation and their emotional age is where the connection point lies.

During an incident, you always want to look for your child’s emotional age. When you meet your child where they are and connect emotionally, you’re able to co-regulate with them and bring them back to a calmer more regulated state AND feel more connected. Then you can deal with what's going on behaviorally. I know this is counter-intuitive, especially with all the supposed to's! It's out-of-the -box and it works!

Mary's 17 year old son had come out as trans a year ago. It was crunch time on figuring out college and he just didn't seem to realize the importance of getting that figured out. There were a lot of arguments. He wasn't doing what he was supposed to be doing at his age. Here's the thing about kid's who have transitioned or are transitioning as teens. They probably have not have gotten to go through puberty in their gender identity. This is why their emotional age shows up as younger. Understanding this can help diffuse the tension at home and adjust your expectations in order to meet your child where they are to best help and support them the way you want.

  1. Bring to mind a recent incident with your child.

  2. Ask yourself how old your child seemed in that moment. Look at their behavior and body posture. An older child may seem much younger, but a very articulate 2 or 3 year old may just be acting appropriately for their chronological age, but your expectations are confused by their cognitive age. What age came up for you as you think about the incident? This is your child's emotional age in that moment. Relating only to your child's chronological or intellectual age leads to unrealistic expectations, frustration, anger and feelings of failure for both you and your child. Nobody wants that!

  3. Ask yourself what you would do for a child of that age.

  4. Do that (or something like it). Yes! It will probably feel out of your comfort zone. I get that. Once I gave a sippy cup to my 19 yr old in a rough moment, and 10 years later, he still remembers how good that felt.

This approach will help you feel more connected to your child and empower you to give them what they need emotionally. It will build the resilience your child needs to become more, not less, able to act their age.

This is Parent-Centric thinking! Read more HERE.

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