Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Help Kids Identify The Emotions Behind Their Behavior

Photo Source: TopNews.In

For many of us identifying and expressing emotions does not come easily. And for kids it's sometimes even more difficult. Young kids, while expressive and full of drama, often don't actually know what they are feeling. They might be able to tell us they feel "good" or 'bad," yet are unable to name the specific emotion they're experiencing.

This fuzziness about how we're feeling is not an uncommon experience for most of us. We might be aware that we're tense and restless, yet confused because we can't identify the emotion we're feeling. Often we'll remain puzzled until we can identify the event that's caused our distress. Then we are able to link that experience with how we're feeling. We remember, for example, how a friend seemed impatient and short with us, or that our brother didn't call to wish us happy birthday. Once we understand what's happened, our unease and tension make sense and we can label what we've been feeling as sadness or anger. Sometimes, though, we can't figure out what's bothering us and it takes another person's observations of us to help us to label the emotion we've been acting out. Luckily we are all wired to recognize emotions in others.

When our kids are unaware of their feelings, we can offer them similar help. We can notice and reflect back to them the emotion we're seeing in their behavior. For example, you might say: "I see you're frowning and sound annoyed. I wonder if that means you're mad?" or," I see you skipping with a big smile; did something happen to make you happy?" Perhaps your son's best friend moved away and you might comment, "I'm noticing that you've been very quiet and hanging out in your room a lot. Do you think it's because you're feeling lonely and sad?" Or maybe your daughter is reacting to a movie that frightened her and you could say, "I notice you've been staying close to me and seem uneasy, I wonder if that movie's still on your mind and scaring you?" When we comment like this we help our children make sense of their experiences, name their emotions and develop self-awareness.

Our comments also provide reassurance that their emotions are okay and can be expressed. Kids are comforted knowing that we're on their side and available. This encourages them to open up and share their feelings. Being able to talk to a caring adult, rather than hold emotions in, will help emotions dissipate. Otherwise, emotions fester and grow and come out in unexpected ways. Noticing emotions as they happen helps avoid this problem, and instead provides the necessary release for pent up energy. When we encourage expression and open up discussion, kids will know their emotions are safe to talk about.

Children are in the process of learning about controlling their impulses, tolerating frustrations and making good choices. Our loving presence and receptivity to their emotions helps foster their ability to learn self-control and appropriate behavior. As you practice helping your children identify their emotions, you might find my book, “Yell and Shout, Cry and Pout, A Kid's Guide to Feelings,” helpful. In it, I've outlined our eight primary emotions, and discuss their purpose and the common situations that trigger them. The book is also a great jumping off point for talking about the many ways your children have already experienced these emotions in their lives. You might be surprised by what you learn.