With kids, no matter how old or how young, they all experience the same complex emotions as us – they too, can get angry, excited, upset, scared, anxious, embarrassed, jealous, and the list goes on.
However, most kids don’t know how to deal with or even have the vocabulary to express how and why they are feeling that particular way, instead they use facial expressions, body language and their behaviour to communicate. All that they have learnt has been picked up through emotional, social and cultural contexts and is extensively accepted, so it’s easy to understand why some kids sometimes ‘act out’ in physical, inappropriate or problematic ways.
How you can help
Being a parent means that you have an immense responsibility to help your kids to understand and develop their feelings and behaviours in the most appropriate ways by teaching them about how to manage their feelings positively, why and when.
By the age of 3, most toddlers start to feel emotions like sadness, shame and guilt. This is the optimal time to show lots of love, support and reassurance to help them to understand these strange new feelings.
Here is a list of ways to help your child to learn about how, why and when to express their feelings:
Calm yourself first
Take a deep breath and put all your distractions to the side, your child needs your full attention in this moment, and it’s up to you to give that to them. Don’t get angry or disappointed straight away with your child, just keep reminding yourself the reason why you’re trying to sort out this problem and don’t escalate it further. Calm your voice to comfort them and use positive phrases like ‘it’s not an emergency’, ‘all problems have solutions’, to give your child a sense of ‘everything will be alright’. Most importantly, don’t take what your child says in the heat of the moment, to heart. We all say things we don’t mean in rage, so when he says ‘I hate you’ or she says you’re the worst mum ever, it’s not you. It’s just her tangled, mixed-up feelings playing a part.
Ensure you and your child takes some ‘me’ time
Whether it’s five minutes, an hour, separately in your bedrooms or in the living room as a family, take some time out. Don’t talk about pressing problems, deadlines or how messy the house is. Just take time to take a deep breath before addressing all those troubles that’s eating up you and/or your child. Mindfulness is important, take a look here on ways to start putting yours and your family’s health first.
Be a role model
Kids learn the majority of feelings and expression by watching others, this could be friends, parents, teachers, grandparents, etc. If you show your child how you’re feeling when different problems and situations arise then they will most likely imitate you when it comes up for them too. According to the Government website it suggests that ‘kids pick up our emotions, and that those exposed to many negative emotions are most likely to struggle’. Ensure that what you’re portraying and saying, is something that you would like your child to say and do, show them how to show feelings properly.
Name that feeling
Help your child to explain their feelings by telling you how they feel, why they feel that way, what happened for them to feel like that – the more they are able to tell you, the more they will be able to identify that feeling. The first step is getting your child to name that particular feeling, from there they will start to develop emotional vocabulary and feelings.
Using a chart like the below is a good way to help your child with this. Print it out and put it in their bedroom, then every time they feel a certain feeling, go back to that chart and get them to read the explanations. Get them to point to the one that they believe they are feeling. This will start to show them that emotions are completely normal and that everyday is a different day and a different emotion.
Be empathetic and supportive of others
The best thing to do is to mirror your child. Match their tone, their body language and do it in a calming setting. When kids know that you fully understand how and why they are feeling a particular way, it most likely won’t worsen. Use phrases like ‘you look upset’ or ‘you look very worried about this performance’ so you’re making it apparent that you understand. Try to summarise when they have spoken for long periods of time to show that you understood every word, this matters to them. For example use ‘so you wish that…’ or ‘so you want this to happen…’. If they start crying or getting really upset, welcome the emotion. ‘Everybody needs a good cry every now and then’, ‘I’m here for you’.
Praise your child when they have opened up about their feelings, it’s hard for them. When they know that they will be listened to, and not shouted at or punished, then they will feel more and more comfortable with opening up and expressing how they feel. Not only does it show all this, by it also reinforces the behaviours so they are likely to deal with these problems front on by themselves or come straight to you to talk about solutions. Let them know that it’s okay to ask for support or even just be there for a little cuddle.
Just like the emotion chart (shown above), you can build, create and design other activities with your child to help them to understand feelings and the most appropriate way of dealing with them. For example, this DIY lego ball is a great way when your child to release when they are upset, angry or frustrated. https://lemonlimeadventures.com/lego-calming-stress-balls/