Emotions. We have them. Our kids have them. And sometimes, no one knows what to do with them!
Getting your kids to talk about their emotions can be difficult. Some kids are naturally emotionally expressive. They are feeling-based. Other kids aren’t as in touch with their emotions. It is possible that they are thinking–based. It can be challenging for us as parents if our child is feeling-based and we are thinking-based, or vice versa.
I am a firm believer that it is important to teach our children to both express and talk about emotions. We need to teach our children that it is okay to feel.
Typically, we tend to be very good at encouraging our children to feel positive emotions. We tend to fail when it comes to negative emotions. There are a lot of reasons for this. Sometimes it is simply because we are uncomfortable with negative emotions, or emotions in general. Other times it is because religion tells us to move past those emotions quickly so that we can focus on being happy.
Here are some steps to help you improve your communication with your child in terms of emotions.
1. Encourage them to feel.
When your child cries, let them cry. I think one of the biggest disservices we do to our kids, especially boys, is to shush them and tell them to stop crying. They are crying for a reason. They are hurt. They are sad. They are tired. They are angry.
Kate Hudgins once told me that our natural inclination when soothing a crying child is to rub their back in a downward motion. This signals to the child to bury their emotion. Instead, we should rub their back in an upward motion, which encourages them to express their emotion and to get it out of their body.
Encourage your children to feel the negative emotions. Allow them to experience and express anger (in a respectful way). Teach them that it is okay to feel that emotion for as long as they need to feel it, as long as they don’t dwell in it or let it overtake their life. Allowing them to feel the negative emotion allows them to deal with the negative emotion and move on.
2. Validate the emotion
Most people just want to be listened to and validated. Our children are no different. Let them know that what they are feeling is valid, even if you don’t agree with it. They are feeling this way for a reason. Dismissing that feeling tells them that a) feeling is not important and b) that they are in the wrong for expressing it. This will damage your child emotionally down the road.
“I understand that you are angry right now. That’s okay. What’s not okay is hitting your sister.” This validates the feeling while teaching that the behavior is inappropriate. It also gives them permission to feel.
3. Encouraging feeling-based conversation.
As I mentioned before, not every child is a feelings child. That’s okay. If you are trying to get your child to open up about feelings when they are not feeling-based, you may need to get a little creative.
One option is to start your day (or end your day) with a feelings board. Have a column for every member of the family for a week’s time. Each day, have each member of the family list three emotions that they are feeling and what is causing those emotions. With younger children, you may need to have pictures of emotions. You can find all kinds of charts online, or you can create your own. At the end of the week, look at all of the emotions that have been expressed throughout the week and sum up what they are feeling now.
Another option is to ask your child check-in questions that are fun. For example:
“If you were a weather report, what would you be?” A sunny report could indicate that they are happy. A rainy report could indicate that they are sad. Stormy could be angry.
Yet another option would be to have them pick a crayon or a marker and draw a picture that shows what they are feeling. One of my favorite art activities is to draw mandalas. Make a circle that takes up the majority of the page and have them draw inside of it. This is a good exercise to do when they are feeling negative emotions, too.
A final option relates to how you talk to your child. We tend to ask our kids, “How do you feel?” or “Do you feel….?”
The first question is a good one. It’s an open question, that allows them to answer whatever they want to. That said, you’ll usually only get a one-word answer. Or an “I don’t know.” Additionally, if you have a thinking-based child, they are going to have trouble answering because that is not how they process.
Instead, ask “What is this like for you?” That is more open, and it gives the child the freedom to say, “I feel…” or “I think….”
When we ask “Do you feel….?” we imply that they should be feeling this emotion. That can come across as judgmental, and we don’t want that!
Implementing these three things will take time, practice, and patience. Before you try to communicate about emotions with your kids, take time to ask yourself some questions:
How do you process emotion?
How do you handle negative emotion, both from yourself and from others?
Are you feeling-based or thinking-based?
Are you emotionally developed or are you emotionally stunted?
Originally published by the author on The Pink Factor.