Most parents and caregivers do their best to protect children from moods or difficult emotions. This can only provide short-term relief and hence, it would be ideal if you sit with your child and visit those emotions. Take time to sit and explore those emotions with the child as this could be helpful in the future for the child to manage difficult emotions and also to form healthy relationships with their feelings. Feelings come and go as these occur for a motive and are usually based on the process of life experiences.
The following are 6 tips on how a parent or caregiver can guide the child to process their big emotions, even if these can be difficult at times.
1) Become aware and validate feelings.
Kids need to learn how to unpack the feelings that they experience. Sometimes feelings overwhelm people and it is a key tool to learn to identify the feeling and break it down into manageable pieces. For example; ‘anger’ is usually a secondary emotion that is caused by other feelings such as; hurt and resentment. Help your kid to develop emotional awareness by asking back to help them reflect on their feelings. You can say ‘I notice that you seem frustrated but we still need to show respect when using words’ therefore, rather than just expressing anger, your child will understand that behind the anger there was frustration. Also, by noticing the child’s emotions you are validating their feelings and not dismissing them. Thus, motivating kids to experience their emotions alongside with thoughts.
2) Stay with the uneasiness
Avoiding emotions will only make these more powerful rather than just painful. If you work with difficult and painful emotions then you are preparing yourself to tolerate the discomfort of feelings and also to prepare for when these feelings become challenging. Assisting your child to stay with the emotions whilst they form thoughtful attitudes towards their emotions helps them to build resilience towards accepting difficult emotions.
When challenging topics arise, it is the role of the parent to explain what is happening and also be an exemplary model for emotional expression. Furthermore, be honest when they ask questions so that the child will maintain trust. This will prevent them from seeking information elsewhere.
3) Understanding that feelings are there to help us
Although most of us welcome positive feelings such as; happiness and contentment more readily than negative ones such as; sadness or fear however, you need to teach your kid that feelings are there to help us. For example; if you are sad because you are grieving, that shows and means that you value the person you lost and the relationship that you had with that person. Feelings are signs which convey messages that we should not suppress. Learn to stay with those feelings and to express them.
4) Connect with your child
Play is very important to children. Use playtime to connect with your child. Children learn a lot through play and they communicate their feelings through play. Use this time to connect with your child but also to provide them with space where they can act out their emotions. Be creative as they may not be able to express what they are feeling but through play they can show you a lot since for them it comes naturally for example through role play.
5) Use Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a technique that encourages peace in the present moment that is; the here and now. If you teach your child the ability to process their feelings through mindfulness at an early age, they will gain the ability to recognize and observe their feelings without getting overwhelmed.
6) Seek professional support
Prevention is always better than cure. So if you think that your child might benefit from professional support, do not hesitate to consult a therapist. Treating emotional issues early is the best form of prevention.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Rachel Osmond is a Family Therapist with Willingness who works with individuals, couples and families. She also has experience with children and adolescents.
Stockly, L. (n.d) 6 ways to help children accept difficult emotions. The Gottman Institute. Retrieved on the 18th August, 2022 from https://www.gottman.com/blog/6-ways-to-help-children-accept-difficult-emotions
Pic taken from Unsplash on 23rd August 2022, photo by Sebastian Len Prado.