Helping our children to identify and label their feelings means learning to regulate our own feelings as parents and carers first. Sometimes we rush in to help our children because of an inability to handle our own feelings of discomfort seeing them upset, this is normal and once we are aware, we can begin to work on this.
Teach your child that having big feelings is OK by validating them. Instead of saying things like ‘calm down,’ ‘you will be fine’ or distracting them, try tuning in by saying ‘I can see you’re feeling really upset right now and that’s OK. Do you want to come and talk to me about it?
Validate them regardless of whether you think the emotional response is out of proportion to the situation. Your acceptance of your child’s feelings helps them accept their own emotions, which is what allows them to resolve the feelings and move on instead of becoming stuck.
Your acceptance and compassion will also teach your child that his emotional life is not dangerous, it is not embarrassing, awkward or shameful or something to be kept hidden and secret.
He learns that he is not alone in his feelings. He learns that even the raw, pointy, tricky parts of himself are acceptable, which means he is completely and totally OK and loved, just the way he is.
It frees him up to be able to speak open and honestly about his experiences now and later on as a teenager and as an adult.
When they are young you are teaching your child that as a little human he will experience a huge range of feelings, sometimes the actions that accompany those feelings might not be appropriate such as hitting others or breaking things, but the feelings are totally normal.
Saying things like 'It looks like you're feeling angry or sad right now' helps your child learn to identify their feelings. Eventually, your child will learn to verbalise and express their feelings on his/her own. You’re also helping your child reflect on his experience and what triggers his feelings.
For little ones, just knowing there’s a name for their feeling is an early tool in learning to manage their emotions. Feeling understood triggers soothing biochemicals and helps him to feel safe. That neural pathway you’re strengthening each time he feels safe and soothed is what he’ll use to soothe himself as he gets older.
Its always easier to teach these healthy coping strategies to deal with uncomfortable feelings, by coaching children first in calm times.
It is important our children learn to sit with & regulate themselves through uncomfortable feelings however it is a skill that takes lots of practice, patience and compassion.
Mindfulness helps both children and parents be more aware of how they are feeling and be better equipped to be able to take those moments to pause and be with themselves in compassion instead of reacting.
When we help our children feel safe to feel and express their emotions when they are young, we help them to build and trust their own healthy emotional processes so that they can handle themselves appropriately using positive coping skills as they get older.