Arguably the most important thing a parent does for their children is help them identify and manage emotions. Throughout their lives, your children are sure to experience it all: Happiness, Sadness, Excitements, Disappointment, and the list goes on and on.
This is why teaching children about emotion very early on is so important. Instead of trying to protect your child from every negative emotion, you should be embracing them and teaching them all about why they are feeling that way and the best ways to get through it.
We do a lot of this teaching at Cornerstone Academy. Here are our tips to help parents going through it for the first time!
1. Identify emotions as they arise and teach the things associated with those emotions.
When you really think about it, most games that we play with infants have to do with teaching emotions. Think about peek-a-boo for example. When you move your hands away, you immediately show the baby the emotion of happiness and excitement, which they repeat back.
While this is a great start, you can continue to evolve this game as kids get older. Making faces in a mirror is a great way to show kids all the different emotions. When you make a happy face, say “HAPPY!”, then make a sad face and say “SAD”. This adds the next layer to your child learning more about the emotions that they experience.
The key early on is to just start to identify these emotions so you can set the stage for the next tips we have in this blog!
2. Validate their emotions. Don’t dismiss them.
Especially as your kids get older and you can communicate with them it is important to validate your child’s emotions as they appear and discuss what they are feeling. This can definitely become difficult when you hit that “toddler tantrum” stage as oftentimes your child might be freaking out for no reason at all, but those are the times to really focus on what they are feeling and how to manage it.
For example, if your toddler is having a tantrum, instead of telling them to “knock it off” or that “it’s not a big deal”, approach calmly and ask them what they are feeling. If they are too worked up to answer, just sit calmly as they work through the emotion. Once they are calm enough, ask again what they are feeling. “Are you feeling angry? Why is that?” “Are you feeling frustrated? Why is that?” Having these conversations calmly shows your child that they are not in trouble or that there is nothing wrong with having that emotion.
As they continue to get older, continue to work on different emotions and the appropriate ways to manage them. There are always new reasons that your child might feel happy or sad, so you always need to be working on the best ways to work through things.
3. Teach them the appropriate way to express that emotion.
The final thing that needs to be worked on with kids is the expression of the emotions they are feeling.
The best example of this, is, of course, the temper tantrum. Most parents are familiar with the stage of angrily kicking, hitting, and screaming that almost all kids go through at some point. What is frustrating for most parents is that a child can get set off but almost anything from hitting their toe to their goldfish cracker having a small crack in it.
We’ve talked already about helping your child identify the emotion that they might be feeling, but now it’s time to work with them to properly manage that emotion.
In the case of a temper tantrum, giving your child alternative outward expressions is key to making sure they are not doing things that hurt themselves or others. Some good examples of alternate expressions are things like big deep breaths, squeezing a stuffed animal, or coloring hard with a crayon. The sooner you can get your child away from what are called “damaging” expressions, the better.
After the emotion has passed, it is a good idea to review it with your child. Go back to what made them upset, validate that emotion, and discuss how they expressed it.
- “Was it a good idea to hit yourself?”
- “Was it nice to kick your sister when you were upset?”
- “What were better ways that you could have approached that emotion?”
This, among other questions, let your child continuously improve on managing their emotions and see that there are better ways to express them.
What we tell parents is that your child’s emotions are facts. Now, the reason why they might be feeling happy or sad could seem a little silly to you, but to them, it’s their whole world.
Teaching your children all about emotions and managing them early on will help save you a lot of trouble later down the road.
One more important note is to remember that your child is normal. All kids go through ups and downs and will have good days and bad days, but keeping calm as a parent and doing your best to work through things with your child will have the best results and make them master emotion managers later down the line!