3 Small Ways to Talk About Big Emotions with Kids
d expressing our emotions with clear language is a challenge for adults, let alone children who don’t have the years of experience we do in understanding their emotions.
In fact, the frustration at not understanding emotions is one of the biggest challenges children face, and can lead to outbursts, misbehavior, and tantrums.
Besides improving behavior and preventing tantrums, teaching children to communicate their feelings has the added benefit of improving your children’s communication skills, and teaching them to advocate for themselves.
Teaching children to communicate their feelings is especially important now, with the daily changes and uncertainties that our children face during the pandemic.
Here are 3 small ways you can talk about big emotions with your children:
1. Let them feel what they’re feeling
When your child is upset, it’s instinctual to try and “solve” the problem, even if they aren’t really in any danger.
They wanted the red balloon but instead got the blue one?
Instead of immediately going into problem-solving mode to avoid a meltdown, stop and give your child a moment to express their feelings.
Try summarizing what they might be feeling to them. For example, you can say, “I know you were excited to get a blue balloon, and feel upset that you got a red one instead.”
Sometimes little issues evolve into full-blown tantrums simply because kids don’t know how to express their feelings.
2. Build their emotional vocabulary
Sad, disappointed, elated, embarrassed, happy, frustrated. Adults have hundreds of words we use to express how we’re feeling at any given point.
It takes years, however, to associate these words with the feelings themselves, and children are just learning these skills.
Help your kids develop their emotional vocabulary by talking about emotions early, and often.
Storytime is a great opportunity to talk about feelings. Talk about what the characters in their favorite stories might be feeling, and explicitly talk about how these feelings manifest in that character’s behavior or body.
When your child is exhibiting behaviors associated with a feeling, call them out. You can say something like, “Your furrowed brow and stomping foot tells me that you’re feeling angry that your sister took away your toy. Are you angry?” You’d be surprised how a small opportunity to allow them to name their feelings can help avoid a full blown tantrum.
3. Model good communication about feelings
No one is perfect, and we’re all guilty of acting out because we’re feeling something. Children learn from the adults around them, however, so the more you are able to communicate your feelings, the more your child will learn to do the same.
The next time you snap at someone because you’re feeling stressed about something unrelated, tell your kids. Of course you don’t have to go into details, but you can say something like, “Mommy was worried about some papers she needs to fill, which is why she raised her voice.”
We often act one way because we’re actually feeling a completely different emotion that we haven’t dealt with, and the earlier children learn that, the more they can learn to regulate their own emotions.
When children learn how to positively communicate their emotions to others, they are less likely to act out, or have emotional outbursts.
In addition, kids who learn to identify and regulate their emotions early on develop stronger empathy skills, feel more confident, develop greater resiliency, and a host of other amazing benefits.
These benefits are not limited to children, and by taking greater care to teach emotional communication to your children you’re sure to see some of these benefits yourself.
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