We all have them, but many people shy away from talking about or acknowledging them. I am talking about feelings. Our natural emotional responses are not always the most productive (tantrums, yelling, and hitting come to mind). That is why it is crucial to help children learn how to manage their emotions and talk about their feelings as early in life as possible. Here are five ways you can help them do that.
1. Be open and honest about your feelings.
You are your child's biggest influence, so they need to see you handle emotional situations in healthy ways. How you manage your emotions provides your young child's first lesson in how to express his feelings.
Modeling is one of the most powerful forms of teaching children healthy behaviors, self-love, resilience, and almost everything else.
2. Show respect in how you express your emotions.
Verbally express your feelings in ways that are helpful and show respect for others. This is another great example of how modeling can significantly influence how kids view what is appropriate and not appropriate.
One effective way to do this is using "I" statements followed by "feeling" words when you share your emotions in front of your children. For example, "I feel ____ when you ____."
3. Watch your tone.
The louder children get, the quieter you should be. If you use softer tones of voice when expressing feelings, your kids will learn to use them as well. For example, instead of raising your voice when you're upset, make an effort to keep your voice calm and low.
If the kids are yelling and shouting, you should continue speaking in a calm and quiet voice to help them lower their voices. You might have to do it a few times for them to catch on, but they will match your tone and eventually use a quieter voice more frequently.
4. Help them define their feelings.
For very young children, two or three years old, it is beneficial to label and clarify their feelings with them. Giving them names for their emotions helps them identify their feelings and find productive ways to deal with them.
Children usually have little understanding of how their emotions function and might not know what to do about their feelings, which often turns into emotional outbursts and inappropriate behavior.
5. Acknowledge when they get it right.
When your child manages their feelings appropriately, providing immediate positive reinforcement makes a big difference in how they learn to express emotions. Emotional management will often manifest into more appropriate behaviors.
Smile and say something like, "I like the way you took a deep breath to calm your body." Looking them in the eyes with a smile will help them know they did something great that they may want to continue doing again.
The bottom line
As a parent, one of the most important lessons you'll ever teach your children is how to identify and appropriately express their feelings. Apply the tips above to help ensure that your children grow into mature, healthy adults.
Try this today
Today, validate your child's emotions without giving any advice or providing solutions. Say phrases like, "That sounds frustrating," "You look sad right now," or "I am here if you want to talk about it." Give them space to act out and process their emotions however they need to (within reason) with you there supporting how they feel.