Small children deal with the same emotions that we adults do. They get angry, sad, happy, frustrated, jealous or embarrassed, and they may not be able to express these emotions in words. So instead they show them with actions, which often may result in crying or screaming, and unpleasant tantrums. At that age, children have difficulty identifying what they are feeling and how to express these feelings without getting overwhelmed. Helping them learn how to identify their emotions and calm down each time they are worked up about something can help improve their emotional development and intelligence. Teach your kid to verbalize his feelings so that he can know what he is feeling, and does not have to feel frustrated that it is not getting translated the way he wants.
How to Help Your Child Identify and Express His Emotions
Here are a few ways on how to help a child with emotional problems:
1. Don’t Dismiss His Feelings
It is very important not to dismiss your child’s feelings by saying things like ‘Stop that whining’ or ‘Don’t you dare lose your temper with me’. This will create a belief in your child that his feelings aren’t important and that he is not deserving of attention, leading to problems like low self-esteem in the future.
2. Help Him Give a Name to His Feelings
When your child gets angry or frustrated, help him identify what he is feeling. Label it and teach him how to label his own emotions. This will help him develop empathy to recognize his feelings along with others’ around him.
3. Discuss What You Are Feeling
Show your child that even you are expressing your feelings by talking about it. Tell him what emotion you are feeling and why you are experiencing it. Like ‘I feel sad that no one helps me with housework – I’m tired of doing it by myself’. This will teach him to separate emotion and its reason, watching you as a role model.
4. Reply to His Cues
When your baby is small, the best way to let him know you are acknowledging his feelings is to respond when he calls you. When he cries or screams, show that you are listening and that you’re making time for him. If he grows up without adequate responses from you, this may create problems later in life making him feel that no one wants to listen to him.
5. Use Positive Reinforcement
When your child expresses himself in an appropriate and polite manner, praise him. This can help him to continue to express his emotions in a stable way.
6. Stay Approachable
Teaching emotions to your child involves showing him that you are there for him physically. Bend down to his level when he’s telling you something, sit close to him while listening, maintain eye contact, and don’t mumble your replies. Show him that you are all ears and staying in the present when he is expressing his feelings.
7. Listen Empathetically
Let your child know you are fully tuning into whatever he’s feeling by being empathetic and asking him questions like ‘You look sad; can you tell me what happened?’ or ‘How do you feel about that?’ It would be much more effective than yelling at him or pushing the issue away.
8. Teach Alternate Ways to Express
You have to make your kid understand that it’s not okay to take his emotions out on someone else. Help him express his anger in other ways – by channelling it in activities like running, swimming, etc. These are positive ways to express frustration or anger.
9. Don’t Punish
Resist the urge to punish your child if he throws a tantrum or shows anger. These do not help him express his emotions as he will feel that it is ‘bad’. This will result in him bottling these emotions up until one day he experiences a meltdown. Lead through a calm example (do not raise your voice and listen patiently), and give him activities to help him express his emotions better.
10. Introduce Problem Solving
Once your child starts to get a grasp of identifying and expressing emotions verbally, try to listen and respond with problem solving statements, like – ‘Okay, so how do you think we can make this situation good for everyone?’ or ‘Let’s think of a way you can feel better and what will make you feel better’.
11. Offer Physical Comfort
Helping preschoolers cope with emotions also means making a deep connection. Listen patiently to your child when he is angry, help him identify his feelings, and try to see the issue from his perspective. Giving him a hug will greatly help in regulating his turbulent emotions.
12. Resist Overdoing It
Don’t encourage your child to express his feelings without regard for others’ needs. Hear him out, allow him to be angry and cry for some time but after that, close the topic by addressing the issue constructively. Don’t allow the behaviour to linger beyond a certain point.
13. Use a Picture Book
Using a picture book when your child is frustrated is a great way to help him illustrate how he is feeling by pointing out images in the book. This will help the child recognize facial expressions and will help him be more empathetic to other people’s feelings as well.
14. Practice Often
Practise strategies with your child for expressing his emotions every time he feels something in excess. Talk about feelings with your child during activities like driving or eating dinner. This can be a good support to your child.
It takes a whole lot of determination and practice from the parent’s side when helping a child express his feelings in an appropriate manner, even when the child shows no emotion. Encourage your child by prompting and listening to him, being available and staying calm throughout. Encourage and praise when he expresses emotions well and be empathetic at times when he’s struggling. Be attentive to your child’s needs and be a good facilitator to his emotions. This will help him learn how to identify and express them in a stable manner, and your efforts will have paid off in the long run when he becomes a mature and empathetic adult in the future.