It is important to guide children as they learn about the world around them. However, we should never lose sight of the fact that a critical part of learning in these essential years involves learning about the self.
Remember that one of the reasons children have a hard time dealing with their emotions is because it could be the first time in their lives they’ve ever had that feeling.
While the journey for emotional learning is long and complicated, here are 3 things to keep in mind to help support your child during this time of rapid emotional development.
It is challenging for a child to cope with a feeling if they don’t know the word for it. Frustration? Anger? Anxiety? Disappointment? You can help your child by teaching them the right vocabulary and discussing these feelings in context. Say things like, “I noticed that you were very frustrated today when you couldn’t put on your shoes.” Expect to have to repeat these words a lot, but it will be worth it when you hear your child saying things like, “I feel excited.”
Our children are always watching us. One of the ways that they learn to understand and manage their emotions is by watching adults around them do the same. While we want our children to see us at our best, we are giving them a confusing message if we expect them to think that we are always happy. If their parent is always happy, they may think there is something wrong with them when they feel negative emotions. It’s perfectly acceptable to be sad, frustrated, overwhelmed, tired, and nervous in front of your child.
Talk to them about your feelings. I will never forget the time I turned to my child during one of those wild mornings getting ready for school. I had a burnt bagel in my hand, the buttons on my shirt were all unaligned, and I was trying to sign a permission slip. I said, “There are a lot of things for me to do here. I am feeling overwhelmed.” My son may not have fully understood the full meaning of the word, but it gave him insight into my emotions.
You don’t teach a child to read just by holding a book in front of their face and saying, “read!” The same goes with teaching a child to navigate their emotions. If you want a child to act a certain way (or stop acting a certain way) you need to give them something else to do to replace the behavior. “Stop it” doesn’t tell the child what to do instead and “calm down” doesn’t mean anything if they don’t know how. Give your child tools when they’re overwhelmed with an emotion, such as thinking of a happy memory, taking deep breaths, or counting all the specific colors in the room.