Not so long ago, many people thought babies didn’t think or feel much before they could speak in words. The thought that babies could feel fear, anger, grief, sadness or even happiness was ridiculous. Now, we have research to prove babies are deeply feeling beings! Even in the earliest months of their life, babies can experience joy, excitement and elation, but they also feel fear, grief, sadness, hopelessness, and anger. As a child grows older, managing their strong range of emotions (self-regulation) is one of the most important factors to be successful in school, work and relationships!
In order for your child to learn to cope with their feelings, you need to embrace all of the feelings. Show them that feelings aren’t right or wrong, they just are. All of our feelings can co-exist and it’s okay to feel them. When you help your child understand their feelings, they are able to manage them more effectively!
The myth that having a “happy child” means they need to be happy all the time is simply untrue. In order for your child to be truly happy, they have to muscle though different experiences and struggles, coping with sadness and grief, in order to build strength and resilience to bring a child a sense of content and well-being.
Here are five things you can do as a parent to help your child understand their emotions better
- Tune into your baby’s cues
In their early months, pay attention to their sounds, facial expressions and gestures and respond sensitively. This lets babies know their feelings are recognized and important. This could look like stopping a tickling game when your baby looks away to show they need a break, or bringing your baby to the window to wave goodbye to dad when he leaves for work!
- Label and help toddlers cope with feelings
Emotions can be overwhelming for children, especially when they feel anger, sadness and frustration. Naming these feelings is the first step when it comes to learning how to identify them. Communicate with your toddler that these feelings are normal and that it’s okay to feel them. Consider having your child draw their feelings to help identify them!
- Feelings are not a problem
Don’t fear feelings! Feelings are not a problem if we know how to self-regulate. It’s what we do or don’t do with our feelings that can cause problems. We should listen with open ears and a calm heart when our children share their big feelings with us. Asking and acknowledging your child’s feelings makes them realize feelings are important and valued. We need to help our children recognize and name their feelings so they can learn to manage them in healthy ways over time.
- Avoid talking children out of their feelings
As parents, all we want is to see our children happy, so we try to make the bad feelings go away. But feelings don’t go away; we need to express them in one way or another. When we acknowledge our children’s strong feelings, we’re working on opening the door to help them learn how to cope with them. If we ignore or minimize the big feelings, children can often express them through aggressive words and actions, or pressing them down inside which can lead to anxiety.
- Teach tools to help children cope with their feelings
If we don’t know how to cope with our feelings, we may suppress them and explode at a later date in time. The explosion of our own feelings can be extreme, so a child that doesn’t have the words to explain their feelings may result in a full blown melt down in the store. Consider associating feelings with colors – red for angry, blue for sad, yellow for excited, etc. Have them draw their feelings out with the respective color to help them cope. If your child is sad they can’t play with their friend anymore, ask them if they want to plan another day when they can see each other and play.
We have our own emotional reaction when our children have emotional reactions, which may lead us to “fix” our children’s feelings. We can’t always fix everything for them, but we can give them the tools to learn how to identify, name, and cope with their feelings. Feelings will always be around and we have to learn self-regulation to form meaningful relationships and be successful in the future!