Talking with our children about feelings can sometimes feel like a confusing task. We might not know what our children understand about emotions or maybe we are not sure how to start the conversation or what words to use. Sometimes their big feelings cause big feelings in us and it is hard to meet their needs from this place. Being a parent is a challenging yet rewarding task and bringing feelings into our conversations is just one part of our very important job. When we teach our children the words to go with their internal feeling states we give them the key to expressing their hearts and to understanding and empathizing with those around them. These two skills can be the foundation to a lifetime of healthy relationships and we all want that for our children. Here are some tips for talking with children about feelings that are connected to the Protective Factors we are exploring this month
Resilience: When our kids experience something challenging we can celebrate their ability to get through it. This will differ depending on how old the child is. A young child may have difficulty sharing toys with a friend but is able to do so. We can put words to the accomplishment and celebrate their resilience. An older child may have a fight with a friend that is very upsetting to them. With your support, they can see different perspectives and work on repairing after this rupture. As we know, this is a skill that will be needed for the rest of their lives and we can celebrate their practice with it. We can also share about our own resilience and the ways that we make it through tough times. We can role model resilience in this way.
Social Connections: One of the keys to having healthy relationships with others is empathy. We can help our children to build empathy and the capacity to exercise it in relationships by talking about how others around us feel. The content of conversations will be different depending upon the age of our children but will focus on what others might be feeling based on our observations of their facial expressions and body language followed by reflection on they might need if they are struggling and how we can help.
Concrete Supports: We can use age appropriate tools to help our children figure out how they are feeling and share their emotions with us. For example, when you have some down time during the day, try using Feeling Faces to give kids the language to express their emotions. Asking questions like “how do you think this one is feeling?”, “how can you tell?” and “what makes you feel that way?” can help kids to identify how feelings are expressed and what might elicit certain emotions. Concrete supports can also come into play when a child needs more help than we can provide as parents. There are amazing child therapists in our communities across NH. We can reach out to our local FRC for a referral if needed.
Children SEL: We can teach our children about social and emotional development by talking about feelings as they arise during the day. Helping our children to connect feeling words with the sensations they feel inside will build a solid foundation that they can use to share their emotions with others as they grow. We can also respond with empathy when our children are experiencing difficult feelings, reassuring them that we are there and will help them figure out how to resolve their struggles. Our presence during these times prevents stressors from becoming toxic and instead helps them to build resilience.
Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development: It is important for us as parents to know what our children are capable of in terms of managing and expressing their emotions. We do not want to overestimate their abilities as that will lead to us feeling frustrated when they do not meet our expectations. We do want to underestimate their abilities, as we want to give them the opportunity to fully achieve! We can find information on the web about social and emotional development and/or reach out to the experts at our local FRCs to get more information on what we can expect at different ages. We can learn about when children can self regulate and how these skills are developed, (sneak preview is they learn this by us helping with co-regulation lots and lots of times). We can begin to give our children the words to express their feelings as we show empathy when we see them in different emotional states. We can help our kids develop tools for processing challenging feelings and so much more!
For a discussion about the protective factors, join Melony every Friday in April at 10 am for Reflect, Replenish, Be
TLC Family Resource Center
originally published 03/17/2021 at fsnh.org