Getting children to communicate about their emotions

Emotions are important to our human experience, yet seeing 'bad' feelings in our children - such as wrath, fear, jealousy, envy, sadness, and resentment - can be distressing.

Strong emotions in our children may stimulate our own emotional reactions, leaving us unsure of how to respond.

Many folks today grow up not talking about their feelings. However, we are advised as modern parents that we must teach our children about their emotions in order to strengthen their resilience. So, how can you encourage your children to express their emotions?

According to research, children learn about emotions in four ways: through our parenting, how we openly teach them, our behavior, and the family environment.

1. Our parenting teaches children to identify, express, and manage their emotions.

As parents, we have a critical role in assisting our children in naming, expressing, and managing their emotions.

However, this is not always straightforward. We may be content to educate our children to notice when they are hungry, weary, or thirsty, but we may be more concerned with preventing children's sadness, anxieties, or rage than with teaching about these emotions.

Everyone experiences a variety of emotions, and 'negative' emotions are not always unpleasant. Emotions are crucial survival signals that help us comprehend ourselves and our surroundings. Children frequently 'play out' their feelings rather than talking about them.

When we teach children that all emotions are normal, they learn to trust themselves, feel more comfortable communicating their emotions, and regard emotions as fleeting experiences.

So, what should we say right now?

1. Begin by explaining what you see or notice. 'Do you sound sad or angry?' or 'You appear to be a little silent.'

2. We frequently don't know what our child is feeling. Be cautious and ask, 'You look frustrated, is that right?'

3. Validate: 'That circumstance was extremely difficult; it's no surprise you're frustrated.'

4. We don't need to say much when our youngsters are sad. Try to listen and engage with gentle touch and eye contact. It is not about having the correct words, as University of Houston professor of social work and author Brené Brown tells us, but about delivering support and connection.

5. When your child is emotional, avoid attempting to fix (problem-solve) or distract them. Encourage children to recognise and'sit with' their emotions.

6. Older children and teenagers may learn to disguise their feelings, allowing us to observe just their troublesome behaviours. Consider their behaviour to be the tip of an iceberg triggered by emotions under the surface. Rather than focusing just on the behavior, try connecting with their emotion: 'You slammed your door, are you upset?'

2. Parents can clearly teach their children about emotions.

We can teach youngsters about emotions when everyone is calm (not when you or your child is distressed).

We can start emotional dialogues about practically anything your child is interested in, such as a TV show, video game, movie, or book they're reading. Inside Out is an excellent movie to start the conversation.

Seeing emotions in fictional characters normalises emotions as a universal experience and teaches children to detect more nuanced sorts of emotions as well as various ways to express and regulate emotions.

For older children who have become more self-conscious, try having these conversations when you are not directly looking at them, such as in the car or during an activity. (walking, kicking a ball, watching a movie together). Some children are more open at bedtime. Make an effort to listen more and speak less.

3. Children observe and learn from us.

Many of us grew up in families where our parents either did not teach us about emotions or provided poor role models for appropriate emotional expression.

If this is the case, it is typical to regard emotions as negative and unhelpful, and to believe that dwelling on feelings is harmful.

As a result, it might be difficult to witness our children experience intense negative feelings. It will help to pause if you are feeling triggered by your child's feelings. If required, you may leave the room. It's important to show children that we can take a break when we're feeling overwhelmed.

1. The Right to Feel (Marc Brackett)

2. Feelings from A to Z (Andrew Fuller and Sam Fuller).

4. Family ties have an impact on children.

Emotions spread like wildfire. Other family interactions, such as disagreement between parents, have an impact on children.

Remember that conflict is a natural human experience that cannot be eliminated. Instead, it is critical to model healthy conflict in which we all express our emotions in a polite manner.

It is also critical that children witness appropriate dispute resolution.


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