Learning to express ourselves is a part of growing up. Developing emotional intelligence comes with maturity, and parents can help their kids to recognize positive strategies for dealing with strong feelings. Here are our tips for teaching your child about emotions!
Encourage self-expression. If your child is feeling frustrated, encourage them to express themselves and tell you the emotions they feel. Depending on the age of the child, you can also ask open-ended follow up questions, such as “Why are you feeling that way?” or “What caused you to feel like this?” You can also do this in everyday situations, like asking about a book they read or a TV program they watched. With younger children, you can help by introducing emotion words (scared, surprised, excited, etc.) that they can use to express themselves.
Praise healthy expression. When your child expresses their emotions in a healthy way, positively reinforce that behavior by praising them. You can say, “Great job expressing yourself,” or “You did a good job of telling me how you’re feeling.” At the same time, you can also encourage your kids to express themselves in healthy ways by giving them friendly reminders when they could use some improvement. For example, if your child is making demands or is irrationally upset, you can say “I don’t understand what that means. Can you describe what emotion you are feeling? What is causing you to feel that way?”
Avoid using punishment for emotional issues. Positive praise is always more effective, so we never want to punish our kids for expressing their emotions improperly. When kids feel like they risk getting into trouble for expressing themselves, it encourages them to withhold these feelings in the future rather than sharing them. When emotions are heated, kids can say things they don’t mean and let out their emotions the wrong way. In these situations, never “shut down” your kids – communication is always the best solution. Start by asking simple, open-ended questions. “Can you tell me what emotion you are feeling? Why are you feeling this way right now?”
Model positive emotional expression yourself. As adults, we all know it’s easy to get frustrated once in a while. Just like anyone else, sometimes a situation gets the better of us and we “lose our cool.” Nobody is perfect, but we can always try to make a conscious effort to display healthy emotional expression ourselves – especially in front of our kids. So next time a bad driver cuts you off in traffic, instead of blaring the horn or yelling out the window, try expressing yourself to your kids! You can explain how you are feeling in the moment - “That car in front of us made me upset because he isn’t using his turn signal.” We can always try our best to be good examples ourselves – after all, we are our kids’ biggest role models!
Create opportunities to share emotions. Talk to your kids about their day and ask them to share with you how they felt about what they experienced. You can get the ball rolling by talking about your day first, and how a situation made you feel (or how you reacted to it). Even a simple family dinner table discussion can do wonders to open lines of communication. Ideally, we want our kids to feel comfortable sharing their emotions openly and expressing themselves in a healthy way.