Kids have lots of feelings. LOTS! (well, actually just all the same ones we all have, plus a few they seem to combine together) 🙂 Their feelings come on quick and strong and wildly. I think it’s our job as parents to help foster their emotional intelligence, their understanding of their feelings and healthy ways to deal with them. I think of it as we try to help teach our children to walk, feed themselves, potty train them…We also need to teach them about all those big powerful feelings so they can get a head start on mainly talking about them and secondly having coping strategies in place to deal with them. I think it’s never to early to start (or too late!) 🙂
One way to do this is to label their feelings. Identify their feelings with them. Being Angry, frustrated, sad, jealous, anxious, afraid, excited, happy, surprised, scared, lonely, embarrassed, shy, (add any feeling here) are totally normal. Kids need to know that their feelings are ok. They shouldn’t feel shamed by having their feelings. I can’t emphasize this enough. Give those feelings names. Make them normal. We all have feelings and it should be ok! It’s how we deal with them that can be the problem, but those problems (I believe) stem from a lack of understanding or what to do with those big feelings once we are feeling them.
When your child is crying because they can’t get their building blocks to stay up verbalize their feelings to them. By telling them you see they are frustrated you are validating that it’s ok and normal. Teaching the child that being frustrated is a feeling we get when we want something to go our way and it isn’t. That to keep trying and then at some point they will succeed and feel proud. Do this for any feeling your is showing. If they are really little you can name the feeling for them. If they are able to tell you ask them how they are feelings and listen to their answers, validating those feelings.
Sharing examples of when you have felt certain feelings will help them to know they are not alone. My daughters are often surprised when I share examples of when I was little and frustrated or sad. They’ve said, “You felt like this too?”. I always say “YES!! Absolutely. And you will feel better. It’s ok, I’m here and we will work through this”. I want them to know that feelings pass and there are always solutions. I also share when I am feeling a certain way as an adult. My children have seen me cry. I don’t hide it. I explain that I feel sad and the reason (briefly, I don’t go into the specifics because I don’t want them to feel responsible for my feelings). I may say only that I’m sad because my feelings were hurt, or because I miss my grandma who passed away and something reminded me of her. I explain that sometimes we feel sad and we may cry but that can help you feel better. That by talking about it I feel better. When you do this use ‘I’ statements leaving any blame out of them.
A big one to work with kids on is their feelings of anger. This is a hard one for me. I don’t like anger. It makes me uncomfortable to feel angry and to see anger. I’m not sure why. My personality type of wanting to do things just right and avoid any confrontation probably has something to do with it. I think I tie it to someone being disappointed or having done the ‘wrong’ thing. I don’t want my kids to feel like that. Again we label our feelings of anger. I say “I see you are angry. It’s ok to be angry. What choice will you make while you feel that way?” We have talked about healthy ways to deal with anger. Taking a break by ourselves is one way. Breathing in and out deeply blowing the ‘mad’ out is another. Counting to 10 or screaming into a pillow are ways we let our anger out here at our house. There are many ways to healthily deal with anger. Then we talk. When we aren’t angry anymore. We talk about how it feels to be angry. We read our book Everyone Feels Angry, by Jane Bingham, QEB publishing 2006. These are great ones too, Bombaloo by Rachel Vail, Scholastic, 2002 and The Way I Feel by Janan Cain, Parenting Press, 2000. There are many books about feelings and they can be very helpful!
Along with labeling feelings verbally, reading about them is an excellent way to talk about them. Also having a feelings chart handy asking your child to point out how they are feeling is helpful. Or having your child draw how they are feeling. Angry scribbling looks very different from calm looping lines. You will be surprised how feelings can come to life on paper! Talking about feelings when they aren’t feeling them is great as well. Kids love to play any “let’s pretend” game about feelings. For example, ask “How would you feel if ______” questions about different scenarios. Let your child tell you and talk about why. My daughters Art Adventure Preschool would do an opening song about feelings. It went like this, “Hello _(name)__, Hello _______, Hello ______ How are you today?” Then the kids could fill in how they are feeling with any feeling real or imagined. For example “I feel silly”. Then the teacher would say “Show me silly.” The child would then make a goofy face or silly body. It was an exercise to connect facial and body expressions to feelings. We played this at home and it was really fun and a great way to teach emotions and expressions.
By making feelings ok and normal we allow children, teens and adults the freedom to express them in a healthy non shameful way. One of the causes of depression is the internalizing of our feelings, especially feelings of shame, anger, resentment, frustration, hopelessness or not being ‘good enough’. By allowing children to express their feelings without making them feel ‘bad’ or wrong in having them they will be more likely to be able to cope and move on knowing those feelings will pass and they aren’t tied to them as a person. You are still a good person even if you feel angry or sad or frustrated or jealous (just to name a few). Everyone has all those same feelings at one time or another and kids need to know this. Their feelings may be big and loud and wild, but we can help them gain the skills to tame them and express them in a healthy way.