Emotions are a vast topic. In fact, they are so big that most of us spend part of our adult years processing emotions, and it’s only in our adult years that we attempt to embrace our emotions fully and process them rather than run from them. What if there was a way to avoid facing the magnitude of emotions in adulthood? Well, there is. As parents, you’re now empowered to help your little ones learn about feelings and how to embrace and process them a little bit at a time. Unsurprisingly, we reinforce and learn the lessons ourselves as we teach our children.
First things first, though. You should be asking why teaching your kids about feelings is so important. Not only does it reduce anxiety and promote emotional intelligence, but in the words of Developmental Psychologist and Mom, Dr Ashley Soderlund, “emotions are the cornerstone of good mental health.” She also notes that children who can regulate their emotions are less prone to unhealthy behaviours and that it paves the way for long-term health and well-being. As parents, we want to give our little ones the best and giving the gift of emotional intelligence is the kind of gift that will keep on giving for the rest of their lives.
Here are a few tips that will serve as a starting point for teaching your little ones about emotions.
- Modelling. We often hear that children will do what they see and what they are told. This is the same with feelings. Identify how you’re feeling in front of them. Show them what you’re feeling. They will learn to associate facial expressions and body language with various emotions.
- Expand their vocabulary. Help them repeat the words when you identify that they are angry or sad. As they grow, they will be able to express themselves more easily. As Clinical Psychologist Paul Ekman explains, “naming our feelings helps us develop skills to manage our emotions.
- Validate and listen. When we’re frustrated, distracted or rushed, it’s easy to say something like, “you’re not sad, just hungry.” Toddlers don’t care that you’re late for work. They can’t process that. They can only process what’s happening right now. It’s not personal. Instead, it’s an inability to reconcile what they want, what they feel, and what’s available. Invalidating their feelings makes it difficult to identify and readily admit to their emotions.
- Find ways to co-regulate. These exercises are vital, whether taking a walk or deep breathing. They will find ways to regulate in ways unique to them.
- Teach them to let go and not harbour grudges. Again this comes from us. Even if there was a moment of conflict, show them that it’s healthy to want to reconnect once more and that you’re no longer upset.
- Book a movie night with “Inside Out.” Not only is this a brilliantly funny script, but it’s also profoundly insightful. Critics and parents alike have hailed the movie as an excellent teacher of embracing emotions and working through them. Your family will love you for it, and trust us, it will have you on a wonderful emotional roller coaster.
Brace yourselves, moms and dads; you’ll find that teaching tiny humans about big emotions will help you a lot too.