4 Important Emotions That You Should Discuss with Children

Your child’s changing behaviors can be linked to 4 important emotions that you should discuss with children. This guide will help break them down for your kid in terms they can easily understand and navigate.

Caretakers, whether consciously or not, begin mirroring their charges’ emotional expressions at the age of one. Do you recall frowning and saying “Ouchie” to your child when they flung that toy car? There’s an expression of feeling there! “We implicitly identify, illustrate, and explain why our children shouldn’t act a specific way by discussing and showing them the correct approach,” explains Jaime Gleicher, LMSW, a behavioral therapist in New York City.

Nevertheless, we sometimes make different efforts to provide such emotional clues to children in school. “If you just tell your child to go to her room when she does something wrong, you miss a chance to talk to her about why she did it and how she might be feeling,” she says. These simple actions can pave the way for discussion that will aid in your child’s development of emotional literacy.

“There’s no school subject on naming and explaining emotions, even though I think it’s just as important as learning numbers, letters, and how to sort colors,” says Gleicher. Feelings help us interpret the world and ourselves. We can quickly apply the information we glean from our emotions to new situations and make decisions based on our past experiences.

When you’re young, you don’t have much of a frame of reference from which to draw; instead, you respond emotionally. According to Gleicher, “it’s up to the parent or caregiver to instruct youngsters in how to identify, describe, interpret, and apply their emotions” so that they can develop a vocabulary for expressing themselves. A language like this doesn’t strangle, crush, bottle up, and release all of their pent-up emotions at once, but rather explains to them the rationale behind their reactions. According to Gleicher,” the best gift you can offer your kids is the ability to experience, acknowledge, and cope with emotions,” which is the key to resilience in adulthood.

When explaining feelings to a youngster, it’s best, to begin with, the most fundamental concepts. Here you’ll learn how to have meaningful conversations with your kids about the most prevalent complex emotions derived from all other emotions.

1. Anger

Contrary to what many people are taught, anger is not always a bad emotion. Anger is a powerful sensation of dissatisfaction, disapproval, or hostility. It’s a feeling like any other, and discussing it can help youngsters learn to manage it. When a child’s playmate takes their toy, the youngster’s fight-or-flight response is aroused, and the child lashes out in rage. Your child’s temper tantrums, hitting, or inappropriate behavior are all responses to experiences that caused them pain or frustration.

Anger “may appear irrational but for a youngster who hasn’t yet learned how to regulate emotions, it’s an immediate normal reaction to any form of mistreatment your child perceives,” says Jaclyn Shlisky, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York. Since you know where your child’s anger or hostility is coming from, talk to them about it as it’s happening so they can learn to name the feeling.

Figure out how they feel.

Say, “You must be terribly upset,” while making angry expressions on your face. According to Gleicher, if your child isn’t genuinely angry but feeling sad or frightened, it’s vital not to put specific words on an event and invalidate your child’s feelings. The child “gets the chance to correct the parents if it isn’t so,” as Gleicher puts it.

Describe how you feel.

Tell your child, “When things don’t go the way we want them to, it’s normal to feel angry and sad.” Next, show them effective ways to communicate their feelings when this happens. Have your child practice saying something like, “I really don’t like it when you grab a toy out of my hand.” According to Gleicher, the underlying emotion that is not yet regulated or recovered is anger, and negative behaviors like hitting, yelling, or crying when angry are just the surface manifestations of this. Developing your child’s emotional language might help prevent meltdowns caused by frustration at not being able to express how they feel.

“Kids need a term to identify with a sensation so that they may use their words to express rather than react,” she explains. If your child is having a tantrum, hitting, or acting inappropriately, Gleicher suggests asking them how they are feeling in addition to imposing a consequence. That way, they’ll learn the connection between anger and violence and develop healthier coping mechanisms. It’s important to convey that “it’s Acceptable to feel” and that “no emotion is ever permanent,” as she puts it. Asking someone, “You just scored a goal in soccer! How do you feel?” is a great example of the other approach.

The best way to simplify matters.

Children can learn much about a certain feeling by observing it in others. Asking a child to speculate on how a fictional character is feeling is a great way to build their emotional vocabulary and introduce them to the concept of empathy, or “placing oneself in the shoes of another person,” as Gleicher puts it.

2. Sadness

Your children will be profoundly affected by the emotions of loss, sadness, or disappointment. Anxiety and hurtful words or actions from others are two common triggers for sadness in children. Feelings of sadness might result from the absence of a loved one (due to death or distance) or enduring a difficult experience (like seeing your parents argue). Disappointment, such as the early closure of schools owing to the coronavirus pandemic or the cancellation of a playdate, can also lead to feelings of sadness.

Figure out how they feel.

Dr. Shlisky warns parents that their children will “feel sad, think sad, and act sad” when they are upset. A child’s tears are the most visible evidence that he or she is sad, but there are other ways that melancholy can show itself, such as rage, isolation, and even clinginess.

Dr. Shlisky explains that by the time a child is a year old, they have learned that their parents will respond to their cries and help them feel better emotionally.

The risk of melancholy is that it might escalate into anger and lead to outbursts if the cause isn’t addressed. If you always comfort your crying child, you aren’t teaching them how to deal with their emotions or problems “Dr. Shlisky explains that children need the language skills to express their emotions by saying things like, “I feel sad because…” if they are to develop an understanding of what causes their sadness.

Describe how you feel.

If your child is upset because he or she has lost a beloved stuffed animal, for instance, it is important to show them via your actions that you are available for them if they need additional cuddles, snuggles, or to weep.

“In addition, you can help them feel less alone by telling them about a time you went through something similar when you were their age. Describe your feelings of sadness and the tears you shed. Share what you found helpful when dealing with your feelings of sadness. Parents often put on a brave front in front of their kids to reassure them that everything will turn out well. But children can learn from watching adults express healthy emotions. Dr. Shlisky suggests letting them know it’s Fine to express their emotions by saying things like, “Daddy is sad, too.” This will show them that their feelings are normal and that they shouldn’t try to hide them.

The best way to simplify matters.

Since a young child is still in the process of learning to link bodily and mental sensations with a feelings vocabulary, it is unrealistic to insist that they “use their words” to express their distress. “I tell a lot of parents to make a feelings chart with emojis, which kids love, and use it to teach their kids how facial expressions relate to emotions,” adds Gleicher. Or, if they are at a loss to describe their emotions, they can at least refer to the appropriate idiom.

3. Fear

Fear is not an innate emotion for children and is instead the result of tension and stress. Fear, even in young children, requires an awareness of risk, according to psychologist Steven Gleicher. Most children have a normal aversion to being alone, in the dark, or away from their parents.

But you can’t expect to always be free of stress. Perhaps your kid was frightened by something they saw or heard on television, or by a real-world occurrence like a vehicle accident.

Figure out how they feel.

Although there are some things we can’t shield our children from, like a global pandemic, it’s important to support your child’s fears about the circumstance (“That does seem pretty scary”) instead of dismissing them. Dr. Shlisky recommends maintaining a level head and a nonchalant demeanor during the birthing process to make your infant feel secure.

Describe how you feel.

You may say something like, “I feel that way too,” and then ask your youngster if they have any questions. What if you don’t know the correct response? Say that you need more information and will get back to them once you get it. It can good to listen to your youngster talk about his or her feelings. She argues that the burden of keeping secrets is too great for our children at times. Providing your child with the reassurance that they can always come to you for support and find a sympathetic ear may be just what they need.

The best way to simplify matters.

Because it’s harder for a young children to articulate what exactly is frightening them, parents and teachers can help children overcome their anxieties by telling stories, acting out scenarios, or reading books about dangerous events. The Color Monster and Wemberly Anxious are two novels that experts recommend reading to children.

4. Jealousy

According to New York psychologist Francyne Zeltser, Psy.D., the green-eyed monster of envy can get the best of us and can be seen in children as young as 3 months. Jealousy is a strong feeling that is commonly exhibited (when a mom cuddles a stranger’s baby or when a sibling receives gifts on their birthday), but it can be difficult to describe. Feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, or resentment may accompany these ideas, and feelings of uneasiness, dread, or concern over a lack of possessions or safety. Dr. Zeltser explains that “feelings of jealousy are generally rooted in an individual’s needs not being addressed,” adding that this might stem from a lack of trust and, ultimately, a feeling of insecurity.

Figure out how they feel.

Envy and jealousy are similar emotions, but jealousy stems from a fear of losing something one already has, whereas envy focuses on wanting something one has never had.

Envy motivated by material desires emerges as early as the infant years (“I want what she has”). Dr. Zeltser says, “Toddlers don’t think twice about taking a toy they desire from a playmate.” However, once toddlers are enrolled in school and start comprehending societal conventions, they usually cease stealing what they want from their classmates. Focus instead on the intangible benefits you receive from your loved ones. You might be able to spend more time with your family because your work schedule is more flexible. You may change the story from feeling inadequate to feeling confident just by focusing on the positives.

Then there’s social jealousy, which can manifest as emotions of inadequacy or inadequacy if, say, your kid wasn’t asked for a sleepover. Dr. Zeltser argues that some children’s “knowledge of fairness” causes them to battle internally whenever they are confronted with an example of how something can be unjust.

First and foremost, parents coping with social jealousy should never minimize their child’s emotions. Your child’s feelings about the cafeteria seating situation may be very important to them, even if you don’t care about it. When your kid finally opens up to you about what’s bothering them, try to take it in stride. Say something like, “I can see how that would make you feel left out,” and then give your child some concrete ideas to help her overcome her jealousy. For example, she could host a sleepover with more people, including the girl who left her out, or she could join a new club or team at school to make more friends.

Another source of jealousy in young children is the fear of abandonment or the loss of a loved one’s attention or security due to the actions of another or to the pursuit of an activity that takes time away from the child. This can manifest itself in seemingly insignificant activities, such as your youngster vying for the largest piece of birthday cake at a playdate.

Your child isn’t a birthday kid, so you should probably find out why they’re upset when they don’t get what they want (even if you know why). You want your kid to communicate about their feelings so they can understand what triggers them.

Dr. Zeltser recommends paying attention to and validating patients’ feelings. You can say something like, “I see you’re sad about the cake,” or “Sometimes we don’t get what we want,” but the key is never to start the next sentence with the word “but,” since this will make them feel like their feelings are being invalidated. Rather than responding with “but,” try “and” as in, “And it’s normal to want the biggest slice of cake. Today we’re going to let your friend have it because it’s his birthday.” Then, switch gears to something that will make your child happy, such as asking them to tell their friend how much they’re enjoying themselves.

The best way to simplify matters.

When a child is upset, the worst thing a parent can do is tell them to “stop crying” or “there’s no reason to be sad.” If you urge them to stifle their feelings instead of teaching them to cope with them, you’re only making things worse.

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