Helping Children Learn How to Manage Emotions
Emotions are an integral part of life. They are tied to our social and sensory feelings, enabling us to make sense of our inner landscape. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to fully experience the rich diversity of life.
While emotions come easily to most of us, they can be difficult to navigate even as adults. Children especially find it hard to control themselves when in the grip of strong emotions. Due to this, raising emotionally healthy kids requires a delicate balance. On one hand, we want them to learn to express themselves, but on the other we don’t want them to get out of control.
Tips for Teaching Kids Handle Their Emotions
Kids who don’t learn to manage their emotions often end up seeking unhealthy coping mechanisms including substance abuse, violence, promiscuity or rebellion towards authority. Repressing emotions can also lead to serious problems including depression, anxiety and self-harm among others. That’s why it’s important that we try to help our kids learn how to manage them.
Here are a few effective tips on how to go about it:
Model healthy emotional self-regulation.
Children are keen observers and they will emulate what you do. If you yell, they learn to yell. Speak respectfully and they’ll copy that. Your own behavior can go a long way towards negating or reinforcing whatever habits you’re trying to teach your kids. So instead of yelling or making intimidating remarks when angry or upset, model healthy behavior by taking time out to calm down and act rationally. Doing this in front of your child helps them learn emotional regulation and self-control.
Acknowledge and validate your child’s emotions.
Learn to acknowledge your child’s or teen’s feelings even if they make you uncomfortable or you think they are unreasonable. Be empathetic instead of judgmental and use statements that reflect their emotions back to them like “That must have made you angry” or “You seem sad”. This validates their feelings and makes them feel understood.
Acknowledging and validating your child’s feelings sends a message that their emotions are important. They learn that having emotions might be uncomfortable but not dangerous. Consequently, they start accepting and processing their emotions instead of bottling them up, eventually gaining better emotional awareness and control.
Limit their actions but not their emotions.
First off, it’s impossible to limit your kid’s emotions. Telling him to calm down or punishing her won’t change the fact that they are upset. It only teaches them that their emotions are “bad” or “wrong” and they will try to repress them, leaving them to fester until they come bubbling out with disastrous consequences. A better approach is to teach them coping skills that can help them process their emotions.
Additionally, teach your children to separate their emotions from their actions. They need to learn that we can’t choose our emotions but we can choose how we behave, e.g., while it’s okay to get angry, it’s not okay to hit others or throw things. With a lot of patience and compassion, you can help them learn this.
Let them talk it out.
Another good strategy involves encouraging your child to talk things out. Talking about an upsetting incident will not only help you discover what triggered a meltdown but also allows your child to make sense of things. Letting it all out helps them express, sort through and resolve their fears, sadness or anger, eliminating the chance of unresolved trauma or repressed emotions coming back to haunt them in future.
Help them find healthy emotional outlets.
A huge part of having a healthy emotional life involves learning how to channel negative emotions in positive or constructive ways. Having an emotional outlet allows your child to release any pent-up emotions, boosting their mental health. Furthermore, your kid can learn a lot about themselves and even improve their social life by taking up some forms of self-expression such as dancing, playing an instrument, painting, writing or taking up a sport.
We can’t do without emotions so helping your child manage theirs is important for their sense of self as well as their mental health and social wellbeing.
Bernstein J. (2013, Sept 30). Five Easy, Powerful Ways to Validate Your Child’s Feelings. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/liking-the-child-you-love/201309/five-easy-powerful-ways-validate-your-childs-feelings
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Jacobson, T. (2018). Helping Children Learn How to Manage Emotions. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 6, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/helping-children-learn-how-to-manage-emotions/