Throughout this learning journey, things can get overwhelming for young children who are trying to understand the complexities of emotions. As a result, they may vent their frustrations through emotional outbursts or have a hard time calming down. Although you may find this situation challenging, know that it is all part of your child’s learning experience in identifying and expressing their emotions.
Here are some things you can do to help your child learn and understand their emotions better:
1. Name the feeling
The different feelings that your children go through daily may be foreign to them at first, but you can help them out by naming those feelings appropriately. For example, you could say, “Mummy has to go to work, and you are sad to say goodbye” or “You were angry that your friend snatched your favorite toy”. You can also use picture books or videos to point out the various emotions of the story’s characters to your child.
When you teach your child to name feelings when they occur, your child will build an emotional vocabulary over time and get to the point where they are able to identify those feelings and talk to you about them. This will then help them learn the basics of expressing their feelings appropriately.
2. Talk about how feelings can be expressed
The best way to teach your children to express their feelings is to set a good example yourself. Start by talking about your own feelings and describe how to best express those feelings. You can also create opportunities for your child to come up with solutions for various situations, and then discuss why they are or are not appropriate.
Here are some questions you can ask to help you get started:
Remember how Mummy got mad yesterday because the kitchen sink was clogged up? When I get mad, I take a deep breath, count to three, and think of the best way to solve the problem.
Your brother bumped his head on the wall – how do you think he feels?
You are frustrated because you are having a hard time putting back that box on the shelf. What can you do? I think you can either ask for help or try to do it again. What would you like to do?
3. Offer a deep nurturing connection
While babies are soothed by their parents, toddlers and preschoolers need to bond and feel connected to mum and dad in order to regulate and deal with their emotions. Thus, when you notice your child getting upset or overwhelmed, the best thing you can do for him/her is to reconnect and try to see things from your child’s perspective. This helps you understand the reason behind their meltdowns and allows you to respond appropriately. In fact, experts highly recommend that we hug our children when the going gets rough, as this has shown to do wonders in regulating their emotions.
4. Resist the urge to punish
Discipline methods such as spankings, time outs, giving consequences and shaming are often used to correct children’s misbehaviors, but these do nothing to help them deal with their emotions. By resorting to these methods, children get the message that their “bad” emotions are to be blamed for their misbehaviors. As a result, they try to bottle their emotions until they get to a point where it “overflows” one day through a meltdown episode.
Instead of using punishment, do help your child to process and manage their emotions in positive ways until they are able to handle it all by themselves. Leading through good example (i.e. speaking in a proper tone of voice and not yelling) and giving them activities that allow them to express their emotions (e.g. drawing and shaping with playdough) go a long way to help both of you get there.
5. Praise and practice – often!
Give praises to your child whenever he/she talks about his/her feelings. This brings across the message that he/she did the right thing and that you are proud of him/her for reaching out to you and talk about feelings.
Children should know that it is perfectly fine to express what we feel, and be given ample opportunities to respond to their feelings in appropriate ways. You can play your part in this aspect by practicing strategies that will help your child express his/her emotions in various situations. For example, you can talk about feelings and coping strategies during dinner, a play date or while grocery shopping. Through the series of events that unfold in each situation, there will be opportunities for your child to express and deal with his/her feelings when interacting with others. The more your children get to do this, the faster they will learn to regulate their emotions independently.