How to Encourage Children To Express Their Feelings in Ways That Help Them Manage Their Emotions
Children fluctuate from one emotion to the next easily and may have difficulty managing these emotions if they don't know how to identify and respond to them. The key to helping children manage their emotions is in continual emotional coaching from parents 1. It is not uncommon for children to react explosively to all types of emotions -- screaming when they are excited, hitting or throwing when they are angry or withdrawing when they are sad. These are human impulses and young children are not always fully equipped with the knowledge of how to positively assess and react to them; that's where you, as parent or caregiver, come in.
Pay attention to the situations around you, particularly if you have more than one child. For example, if your eight-year-old is screaming at your four-year-old, you might be better equipped to handle the situation if you first saw the four-year-old walk over and rip the toy truck out of your eight-year-old's hands.
Take a moment to clear your head before reacting to a child's emotional responses, particularly in the case of anger. If your own emotions are explosive, you won't be able to help your child correct the outburst because you will not be providing a good example.
Set behavioural boundaries and consequences. If you want your child to do something such as putting toys away when they are finished playing with them, make a rule and clearly communicate it. Let your child know that if he does not put the toy away, he will lose the toy or may not be able to go outside until the toy is picked up. Your child may react negatively, but allow the child to calm down and do not give in. Setting boundaries helps your child understand what is and is not acceptable.
Establish calming areas in your home with soothing activities or a comfy chair. This can be like a time out, but a more positive place might be a drawing centre. Tell the child to go to the centre until he can calm down and tell you how he is feeling. Let him know that only when they are ready to speak calmly will you listen. This allows the child to calm down and get a grip on his emotions.
Respond calmly to an outburst. If a child screams at you to "go away," say something like "I must have startled you. Would you like a few more minutes?" Chances are the child will say yes, but don't just walk away. Set a boundary. Tell the child clearly how much time you are giving her and where she can find you. For example, "OK, I will go sit on that bench and give you five more minutes to finish up your game." When the five minutes are up, don't just let the issue go. Calmly bring it up to your child and express that that kind of reaction is not respectful and it hurt your feelings or made you angry.
Practice better ways of verbally expressing emotions with your children. Talk to them about other ways of saying what they mean in a more respectful tone so that you will be more inclined to help them. Express to them that explosive behaviour does not make you want to help them; instead, they will have more success with something like, "Please mom, we are almost finished, could we have five more minutes?" Let your children know that they are more likely to get what they want if they react positively to the emotions they are feeling. Practice these sayings with them when these situations arise.
Teach your children better ways of saying what they mean by helping them to identify their emotions 1. For example, when you are watching a TV show together, comment on the emotions of the characters, such as "Wow, I bet it really hurt Molly's feelings when Tyler said that." This opens up the doors of communication with your children and helps them better understand their emotions.
Model the behaviour your want your child to use. Kids will often mimic your reactions to certain emotions. If you scream and yell about something at work that has made you angry, your child will scream and yell when he is angry too.
Give the child other means of emotional outlets. Express to her that hurting is not OK, physical or emotional. She can't kick the dog when she is mad, but she can punch a pillow, go outside and yell, take a run or hit a tennis ball outside. This allows her to express her emotions in a safe and secure environment that helps teach other ways of expressing her feelings.
Remind your child of your rules and requirements when there is a new outburst that has been discussed before. Say something like, "Now we have talked about this. That is not how you talk to Mommy. When you can calmly tell Mommy what you want like we talked about, then I will listen." Then go back to what you were doing and wait for the child to address you in the manner you have been practicing. Further, it may be necessary to remind him that there are consequences for bad behaviour and would he like to try again. Chances are, the child will take a few minutes to calm down, and will address you just as you have taught him.
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