All feelings are permitted, actions are limited.
We must not deny a child’s perceptions.
Only after a child feels right, can he think right.
Only after a child feels right, can he do right.
If you’re like me, you might have grown up during the day when expressing your feelings just wasn’t acceptable. A common message heard years ago was “you shouldn’t feel that way.” I’m curious — what message do you remember hearing?
We all have feelings and naturally come into this world expressing them.
Teaching our children how to manage their feelings is one of the single most important skills we can equip them with, yet most often, the very one we miss.
When they have the ability and our permission to say, “I feel happy today” “I’m feeling frustrated” or “I’m so mad at you,” not only are they emotionally healthy but there is also an added bonus that most parents don’t realize. They have fewer behavioral issues when they know how to manage their emotions wisely.
The goal in teaching our kids this emotional intelligence is to help them recognize, name and express what they are feeling. How do I do that, you say? I’m so glad you asked because I absolutely love it when parents come back to me and say “this really works”!
Model emotional astuteness.
How do you express your emotions when you are mad? Remember that kids learn so much from us by watching and listening to what we do and say. Are you able to say “I had a frustrating day today”?
Validate and acknowledge their emotions.
We have to be good listeners to do this and it’s never too early to start. Infants cry when it’s time to be fed. We want to validate that by saying “You’re mad because you are hungry.”
Daniel Siegel, M.D and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., in their book, The Whole-Brain Child, say it beautifully — “name it to tame it” — this is what helps our children make sense of what’s happening to them.
With the youngest kids, start with these four feelings: happy, sad, mad and scared. “Wow. I bet that dream did scare you” or “You look so happy today”!
For older kids, we can be more specific and use bigger words: disappointed, frustrated, annoyed and elated. “You were so annoyed you had to be home before your friends did.”
These responses convey to our kids that we understand and we accept their emotions. This is empathy. Don’t we usually feel better when someone gets us? When we validate our kids feelings, this is how they feel too. And when they feel good, they usually act good. Our acceptance also helps them understand and accept themselves. This makes it easier for them to resolve their feelings and move on.
Allow your children to express all emotions.
Feelings can either be expressed or repressed. When repressed, they come out sideways and have the potential to cause many problems. When they have the words to express what they are feeling, they will have less need to act them out.
A physical release is necessary for some children. For younger kids, give them something they can get physical with after stating the limit. ”It’s ok that you’re mad at me, but I am not for hitting. Feel free to hit this pillow.” For intense older kiddos, a boxing bag in the garage is a good option.
One caveat — the key to successfully teaching our kids about emotions is dependent on the state of the parent-child relationship. Remember when there is a disconnect in this relationship, they are not going to be able to accept our attempts to help them with their emotions or be open to anything we are trying to teach them.
Emotions matter more than anything and we should take them very seriously. At the end of the day, we want our kids to be equipped with the skills necessary to be compassionate, whole and emotionally healthy adults.
There’s Always Hope,
Need more help? Parents often jokingly ask Amy, “Will you go home with me?” While she can’t do that, Amy is available to consult with parents through her consultation services. Click Here to learn more!