Feelings are typically difficult for a child to understand. When you ask a child how they feel they will often refer to the event that caused the stir of emotions. Rather than say, “I’m angry” a child will exclaim, ”Johnny won’t let me have a turn.” It is important to identify one’s emotions. All the more reason for parents to make sure that they are allowing their child to have and to experience their emotions as they occur.
As parents, we often work as problem solvers for our children making sure that they keep the status quo. That usually means that we like to see them happy. So when our child comes home from school angry with his teacher, we make him feel better by talking about how smart he is. Perhaps they feel sad about a lost relationship so we remind them about their other relationships. The problem is that we are stifling his ability to experience his own emotions and problem solve his own life experiences. What can result is a child that looks to others for their emotional needs to be met.
There are a few things that you can do as a parent to help your children experience his feelings.
- Be prepared with a list of emotions with explanations or drawings that describe what the feeling means. This isn’t just for the little guys. When we have strong emotions it can be difficult to associate a specific emotion to the event. Especially when there are feelings of sadness and anger combined.
- Come up with a sentence that you can use as a family. An example is…I feel angry when Johnny won’t give me a turn because I love to jump rope. The sentence states the emotion, briefly describes the event and explains why it caused the emotion.
- Allow your child to have their own emotions. Your child needs to experience the feeling that he identifies and how to identify them.
- Don’t pass judgment on your child’s emotion no matter how difficult that may seem at the time. Feelings are natural and the ability to express them appropriately is a gift.
- Set appropriate boundaries. Remind your child that you will not judge his feelings but his behavior is a different matter. It is ok to be angry, but the actions that are a result of that anger may not be.
- Don’t be afraid of your child’s feelings. Help them to explore what the emotions do to both emotionally and physically.
- Ask probing questions to help your children understand their experience.
- Help your child to brainstorm ways to manage their emotions and be there to support them as they follow through with their plan. Give them the space to learn.
- Lead by example. Remember that your child learns the most by watching you.
Take a moment to explore your own experience with emotions and remember what a confusing time it is for your child. I, for one, don’t know if we ever quite master them. But, if you follow the guidelines above you will be on the road to allowing your child to have the kind of emotional maturity that will serve him well as he continues to age.
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