Talking About Emotions: It’s Important
On this blog I look a lot at how important talking to your child is. One thing that it is especially important to talk to your child about are emotions. A child’s emotions develop and become more complex as they grow older, and so should their understanding of what they are feeling. Parents can help their child to manage their emotions by creating an environment where children feel safe and nourished, where they feel that their emotions are recognized. Talking about emotions will help to develop such an environment.
When your child is a baby, their emotions are seen as pretty basic, and are usually an extension of physical needs. They cry because they are hungry or cold, they smile if they are comfortable. Whilst that is true, the expression of these emotions forms the foundation of the development of more complex emotions. As your baby grows, s/he will start to show more emotions, such as excitement and frustration.
From around two years of age, toddlers frequently start to throw tantrums. This can be due to a number of different feelings, but usually tantrums are as a result of frustration or anger, perhaps combined with physical feelings of tiredness or other discomfort. Tantrums are frustrating.You’ll probably want to throw a tantrum back whilst they’re in the middle of one. However, it is important for you, as the parent, to be there for your child when s/he is feeling overwhelmed. At this age it is especially important to start to discuss emotions.
Why talk about emotions?
To be on the same page.
This is the first reason, and the most basic one. Make sure that you know why your child is feeling a certain way. This is difficult if your child isn’t talking much. Try to ask simple, yes no questions when your child is showing a negative emotion. “Are you feeling sad?” “Are you feeling angry?” This can help clarify if there is a situation that needs addressing, or if your child is simply feeling a natural emotion in response to a trigger.
To validate your child’s feelings
When you talk about how your child is feeling, it communicates to your child that his/her emotions are important and worth noticing. This validation will lead to an increased understanding of their own emotions, both positive and negative. As you validate different emotions, your child will be able to distinguish between his/her own feelings and start to understand them. You may not agree with what your child is feeling, or you may think the feeling is unreasonable. If you try to reflect back your child’s viewpoint, they will feel that they are understood.
To help them to develop skills
Skills such as delayed gratification require management of emotions. If your child is able to recognise their own emotions, understands that these feelings are valid, knows that s/he has a warm and nurturing parent, your child will be able to develop such skills easier than if their emotions were met with impatience and a lack of communication.
How to talk about emotions:
Look at what has caused the emotion. Did something specific happen? Was there a build up of emotions? Pay attention to your child’s facial expressions, tone of voice and general behaviour.
Keep it simple:
Reflect your child’s emotions back in a simple statement. Say “You look sad.” or “You look angry.” A question will place pressure on your child and could further aggravate any negative feelings.
Use a variety of feeling words:
Once your child has an understanding of basic emotions such as ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘angry’ and ‘scared’, you can start to talk about more complex emotions, such as ‘excited’, ‘jealous’, ‘frustrated’. This will build your child’s internal vocabulary and help them to distinguish between their own feelings.
Be realistic in your expectations:
A child needs to develop emotional regulation, and this does not happen overnight. Your toddler can not be expected to have the emotional regulation that a 5 year old may have. It is normal for a child to feel things very intensely, and something that seems insignificant to an adult can be a tragedy for a little one.
If you’re struggling to communicate with your child, read about 5 Strategies that Speech Therapists use to help you to boost your communication with your child!
Validating your child’s emotions and helping him/her to understand what they are feeling will create a safe environment for your child to develop emotional regulation. Talking is such a simple, but powerful tool in this process!
This Emotions Memory Game is a fun way to facilitate talking about emotions. By using a game to discuss emotions, you can create a fun, safe environment to learn about emotions!