Parenting Top Tips

Teaching Children about Emotions

teaching children about emotions

Emotions can sometimes be the cause of arguments and unwanted behaviour but it is important to remember that emotions are natural, healthy and needed.

Emotions help us with managing situations including avoiding danger or potential threat, and they also and help with effective communication and help other people to understand how we feel.

We should never expect children to suppress their emotions but instead they need us to help them learn how to recognise and manage these emotions.

Teach them to NAME emotions
When we teach our children to give one or more names to an emotion it allows the logical part of their brain to help manage and organize the more primitive and emotional parts of the brain; its as if we are putting them back in the driving seat of their own emotions.

When they are not experiencing emotions!
For younger children you can build your child’s emotional knowledge by teaching them how to identify and express emotions using stories, TV cartoons or pictures. Just sitting with them and asking “how do you think Buzz Lightyear feels?” “why is Buzz sad/happy/angry?” is just as essential as learning colours, or numbers. It helps children identify not only what they are feeling and why but also and others are feeling and why.

Positive Emotions

We need to teach them to identify positive emotions such as fun or happiness. In fact, if you can, try to label your child’s positive feelings more often than the negative ones! For example you might say
“You seem confident reading that story…”
“You look like you are having fun playing with your friend…”

When their fight or flight emotions are triggered

All children experience strong emotions such as anger, or anxiety.
Last week we talked about how the human brain is made up of the emotional part of the brain and the logical part of the brain.

For children, the logical part of the brain is undeveloped. Fight or flight emotions such as anger or fear have the capacity to overwhelm a child’s logical brain so you will need to follow this simple process:
State the emotion : for younger children For younger children describe your children’s feelings rather than asking as they may not yet have the words to tell you. Only state one emotion at a time; so for example if they are feeling sad wait until they agree that is how they are feeling before asking about related feelings.

Acknowledge how they are feeling:
The most important thing we can do as parents is to listen to our child, acknowledge their feelings whatever they may be, and be empathetic – when they are operating from the primitive or the emotional part of the brain they need to know you are on their side, you are “for” them, before they are going to feel safe enough to let the logical, teachable side of the brain take charge again.

So don’t say “Stop being silly…” or “What are you crying for now?” – just accept that is the way they feel at this moment. Even when we don’t understand why they are reacting like this

Be Empathetic!
With older children they also need you to be empathetic while they are in the -343middle of their emotions – they need to know you are on their side. Use phrases like:
“I know that is frustrating”
or “I can see you are angry; would you like to talk about it?”

For children who are able to verbalise their feelings, talking about what is bothering them gives them a chance to let you know what is going on while also processing it for themselves.
The trick is to resist the urge to “fix” the problem. Your child needs you to listen and ask appropriate questions, not offer unsolicited advice.

They may not want to talk about it yet but offering help shows you are listening to them and that you care about how they feel.

Once they have calmed down:
Praise your child for self-regulation skills such as staying calm, trying again when frustrated, or waiting a turn. Use words such as: “That is frustrating, and you are staying calm and trying to do that again.”

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