When we see that little boy screaming at his mom for skipping out on candy at the supermarket, we often think to ourselves, “What a brat!” What we normally don’t stop to consider, however, is actually listening to what he wants to say.
Children face their own frustrations, even at a young age. In fact, their experiences may even be perceived at a larger scale than adults since many situations are new to them. Still unable to control themselves, kids often express strong emotions physically (such as by biting or hitting) when they get overwhelmed, or throw tantrums when they don’t get their way.
Often referred to as emotional regulation, Angelica Perez-Litwin of Modern Familia describes it as the “ability to process and express a range of emotions, and react in appropriate ways in emotional situations.”
How exactly do we encourage our kids to express their emotions in a healthy fashion? Here are a few tips:
Name the different feelings
Teach your child the different kinds of feelings by giving names or words to label them. Having emotional literacy is the first step to knowing how to handle emotions. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning in Vanderbilt University says that this also enables children to recognize social cues and respond to them appropriately.
You can do this with a simple activity: Cut out face shapes from paper, then draw different expressions that show feelings with your child. You can draw general feelings like happy, sad, angry, and then teach them more specific terms with the general feelings to which these are related. For instance, tell them about “lonely” and “confused” when you’re on the sad face, and “excited” and “thankful” when you’re on the happy face.
Help them identify emotions in different situations
Once they are aware of the different kinds of emotions, help them identify feelings by relating them to specific situations when these can be experienced. Do this as a form of play so as not to pressure them into learning it like schoolwork. You can relate the feeling of excitement with what a child feels when her birthday approaches or the feeling of loneliness she feels when she plays on her own while others are playing together on the playground. Try asking your child to describe how she feels in different situations, and then give her the specific term for that feeling.
Teach them how to process and handle emotions
Children usually respond to situations inappropriately because they are overwhelmed. Give examples of different situations and how it is best to handle these. Talk to your child about several instances when she reacted negatively or violently and explain how her actions affected the people around her – “The girl became sad when the boy started shouting,” for example.
You can then suggest ways to help her control extreme feelings and let them out in a calmer way, like thinking first about the consequences of his/her actions before doing anything. Remember to also talk about positive instances too so as not to let your child focus only on negative situations.
Do as you preach
Children absorb many lessons from their surroundings automatically, so the best way to reinforce what you teach is by being a role model. You don’t have to go to them and discuss each and every situation you handle, but you can go back to these and give them as examples when you talk to them about handling emotions.
Give them space
Remember not to pressure your child into immediately learning how to control their feelings and reactions. They learn by experience, so give them a chance to handle situations themselves. Spoon-feeding them everything and outlining their move every step of the way removes the process of learning.
When situations arise, talk to them about what happened and what they learned from it. Similarly, help them learn to soothe themselves by not interfering too much after a situation. For example, let them stay in a quiet corner for a while after being involved in a fight, and let them calm down on their own.
It’s important that parents and caregivers teach children early about how to express their emotions in an appropriate manner. This is a basic life skill that affects other areas of a child’s development.
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About our Guest Blogger:
Pasha Lubeck is a single mom to two beautiful boys and a part-time designer for Kichler Lighting. She believes that being a parent is one of the most challenging jobs in the world—and also one of the most rewarding.
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