HELPING CHILDREN MANAGE THEIR EMOTIONS
Managing emotions – this is a big topic and, let’s face it, one that affects all of us! We all experience emotions all of the time and as parents we have an important role to play in helping our children learn how to manage these.
This is easier said than done – many of us haven’t been taught how to manage our emotions and doing so doesn’t necessarily come naturally to us.
But why is it important that we manage our emotions? This list is just a starting point:
It improves our ability to self-regulate, which simply means that we listen to what our body tells us and respond accordingly
We’re more likely to behave appropriately, e.g. if a child can say “I feel angry right now” they are less likely to hit and kick in response to their anger
We’re more likely to respond with resilience to situations – awareness of our emotional state gives us insight that can help us select appropriate coping strategies and tools. It’s also confidence building to know we have experienced an uncomfortable emotion but that we’ve come through it OK
We’re also more likely to have better relationships – let’s face it we’re always going to have a harder time connecting with others if we keep our emotions locked away, are unable to articulate how we are feeling or are prone to emotional outbursts
So as parents, what are some of the things we can do to help our children learn how to manage their emotions? Here are 8 strategies:
Help your children identify how they’re feeling. Talk with them about where in their bodies they experience different emotions and help them put a label on these. Stretch them by teaching them a broad vocabulary, it isn’t just about feeling happy, sad and mad. If they don’t yet have language skills use drama or art to help them express themselves – red for anger, yellow for happy. Don’t be afraid to share appropriate feelings with them too. The mere act of encouraging your children to use more complex words, phrases and sentences, and really listening to their articulation of these, can help shape their emotional experience
Teach them that all emotions are OK – I repeat, ALL emotions, no matter how uncomfortable. This helps children view emotions as normal and manageable. Whilst we don’t limit emotions, we do limit behaviours. We may feel like we hate our big brother but it’s not OK to punch or kick in response to these feelings
Teach your children how to calm themselves down when experiencing uncomfortable emotions. Part of this involves giving them a secure and loving base they can always return to and part involves teaching them strategies and tools such as deep breathing, exercise, diet, talking it through, problem solving, rest, retreating to a safe place. Celebrate their successes when they effectively use one of these strategies or tools
Teach them that feelings come and go. This is a great topic of conversation. How many emotions have they experienced already today? How long did they stick around for?
Encourage your children to fully experience all their emotions and to avoid pushing negative emotions away. Emotions are like energy, they need to flow and if we don’t allow them to, e.g. if we don’t cry or talk to a loving adult when we feel sad, they risk getting stuck. When this happens they will find other ways of leaking out, e.g. through sickness or emotional meltdowns
Stand back and observe your children so you really know who they are – it’s easy to lose sight of this in today’s busy, always ‘on’ culture. Being aware of your children’s triggers and preferences and following their cues can enable you to more effectively guide them through life’s emotional ups and downs
Show empathy to your children. This is a biggie and is something we don’t do nearly enough of. It means actively playing back what they’re communicating, verbally and non-verbally. For empathy to work you need to actually say it, it isn’t enough just to feel it! When you do this you will be amazed at its impact – the mere fact of feeling heard removes power from the most uncomfortable of emotions. You can teach empathy to your kids by asking them how characters in books and movies are feeling
And last, but definitely not least, remember to connect with your children. Every day. We talk about ‘connection being your superpower’. This means showing a genuine interest in your children, listening to them and spending time with them doing what they want to do
Ask your child to draw a body outline and to draw where they experience certain emotions
Spend time each day connecting with your child. Start with 10 minutes. Put your phone down, let them choose what you do and fully engage with them