Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Help Kids Decode What They're Feeling

Be A Translator

When kids have strong feelings they often can't express what they really mean. They take short cuts and say things like, "I'm stupid," or "You're mean." While they're able to express the energy of the emotion they're experiencing, they might be unable to give it a name. When this happens we can give them "feeling" words to help make sense of their experience. We can reduce their confusion by linking their behavior to the feeling they're experiencing.  

When we increase their feeling vocabulary they become better able to identify their emotions and the situations that cause them. For example, when a child says "I'm stupid," you can comment that they seem dissatisfied with themselves. Then you can ask questions or explore together what's not going well for them. Maybe they're angry with themselves because they tend toward perfectionism and have trouble making mistakes. You can then help them develop tolerance for less than perfect attempts and be more gentle with themselves. Or perhaps they're sad and feeling hopeless about their ability to do well on their math homework. You can sympathize knowing that this a difficult subject for them while also reminding them of their competence and the importance of persistence. When you name the emotions they're exhibiting you help them gain self knowledge and you have the opportunity to offer guidance and support.    

Imagine What They're Feeling

It might seem wrong to just guess what a child is feeling, but it's better to guess than not comment at all. It's true you might be wrong, but there are two reasons to try. The first reason is that your attention, not your accuracy, is what matters most. Kids depend on our noticing their emotional states; it is being attune to their feelings that makes them feel seen and important. Secondly, if you've guessed wrong most kids will readily let you know. It's important to them that you to get it right and they'll correct you if you're off base. When you're uncertain about what feeling is being expressed, check their body language. Notice and comment on their facial expression. Say something like: "I see there's a frown on your face." Or notice their tone of voice and say: "Your voice is so quiet, I wonder if you're feeling shy." Or perhaps there's a behavior you can comment on: "I see you're pacing; that must be a hard assignment." Commenting on what you're seeing can help open up discussion and lead to unearthing whatever emotions haven't been fully understood. Your support helps them become more emotionally aware and better able to mange their emotions the next time.

What experiences have you had helping your children through their feelings? What kind of body language have you encountered that has clued you into what they might be feeling? I would love to know - Tweet to me at @PeggyKTietz.