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How to Teach Children About Their Feelings

How to Teach Children About Their Feelings

How to teach children about feelings

A 6-step Guide to Raise Successful Children and help them identify and express feelings

Let’s face it. Everyone out there has to deal with feelings and emotions. Every single second. As a mother, I sometimes feel like it’s impossible for children not to be overwhelmed by emotions or tantrums.

I think of when they scream at the top of their lungs as if someone was cutting their throats because you just said: “you had enough candies” or when they are so frustrated that they pull their hair or throw everything around.

Emotions make us who we are, they give us the motivation to be able to accomplish anything. However, children still do not have the ability to make the various parts of their brain talk to each other, and therefore to rationalize and put into perspective what they are feeling. This is what the most recent neuroscientific discoveries revealed.

Parents can play a crucial role in this process, helping them fill the biological gap and form healthy neural connections that children will use for the rest of their lives. Not to mention that by educating children to welcome and better manage their feelings and emotions from an early age, they will have a real advantage in life, building more self-confidence and being more flexible to challenges than their peers.

Being in control of their emotions, will help them channel their energy into modifying the behaviour, making it consistent with their value system.

What you can do to help your children develop their emotional skills

How can parents help transform tantrums into growing opportunities? Here are 6 steps with practical examples you can follow to help transform bad emotions and feelings into valuable growing experiences.

Step 1: Learn What Emotions Are

First of all, we need to help children learn about emotions and how they affect people’s behaviour.

The primary ones are anger, sadness, cheerfulness, curiosity, sorrow, love, and shame.

When we are angry we want to throw things around or destroy everything, while when we are happy we feel like hugging, kissing and smiling. 

Something easy to implement with your kids in this phase could be watching the Disney movie “Inside Out” together, or playing a Montessori-inspired game with emotion cards or reading the magnificent book The Colour Monster by Anna Llenas.

Step 2: Recognize Your Emotions

Once the child has learned what emotions are, it will be time to recognize them by experiencing them or watching others experiencing them.

It is important at this stage to make the child vocalize the emotion and call it by its name. Or, if he/she still can’t do it, we help him with phrases like: “I know you’re angry because we can’t do this together”, “You’re happy we’re going to the zoo today.”

Step 3: Feel Free to Express Emotions

We have all been there: we have been angry, disappointed, worried, happy. Why stop our children? The emotions they feel are just as legitimate as ours, although certainly louder. So let’s avoid making them feel bad with phrases like: “Don’t cry.” “Why are you laughing?”

Let’s accept their feelings and try to put ourselves in their shoes for once. As an example, we can rephrase the previous sentences (which can just come up when we are busy or in a hurry, no judgement here!) as follows: “It must have been difficult for you not being able to score today. You’ll try again tomorrow!” “I know you’re angry because you can’t put your shoes on alone. I used to do the same when I was your age, but now I do it everyday. You’ll get there.”

We can transform difficult and challenging moments into learning opportunities and channel their energies into more fulfilling activities.

Step 4: Embrace Your Emotions

Emotions drive us and are an essential part of our life. Regardless of how empirical we think to be we can’t get rid of them, and neither can our children. What we can do instead is change the behaviours that these emotions can trigger. 

To do this, we need to go back to the integration between the rational and irrational part of the brain. Helping our children integrate those 2 areas will be a parent’s mission, helping them form a metaphorical ladder between them.

In a tantrum, for example, we can tell the child that we understand his/her anger and that we love him/her. This will help us connect with him/her. 

At this point, we can help in the vocalization process: we can let him/her tell us what happened or what he/she thinks happened, and find a solution together.

Another solution may be counting to 10 together, taking deep breaths or anything that usually calms the child down (you will know what works better than me).

Step 5: Reflection Time

Human beings use their brain to ponder and reflect on things. Going back to our day, to the emotions and feelings we’ve experienced throughout, will help us and our child be more self-aware.

A great way to do this is by creating an evening ritual with 3 very simple questions:

  • What was the highlight of your day?
  • What was the worst thing that happened today?
  • What would you like to change or do differently tomorrow?

By doing this we open a communication channel with the child and more importantly we help them be once again more self-aware. 

Believe me, a life-saving technique during lockdown!

Step 6: Turn Emotions into a Story

All children like stories and tales. And all human beings like to create relationships and connections even where there are not. 

It helps us understand and make sense of the world. In this same spirit, we can help children understand what they are feeling and experiencing by telling a story. The story of their emotion.

Does the child wake up in tears in the middle of the night? Let’s bring him back to reality by telling him that he fell asleep, then he was dreaming… (the child can complete the story if he/she remembers the dream) and then he had a nightmare. Now he is in his bed pampered by mum and dad.

Conclusion

This article is based on neuroscience studies, NLP techniques and my personal experience. I can’t guarantee you that this will work 100% of the time, as everyone is different, but it will give you and your child a wonderful starting point. 

There’s no magic wand in raising a child, it’s a journey full of patience, empathy, but also love and affection. Putting these few ideas into practice will make a difference and will allow your child to have an advantage in all angles of his/her life. 

These techniques are easily applicable to adults too and will help you communicate better and empathize with anyone. 

Techniques adapted from our Limitless Success course.

BONUS: Anger management exercise

Material:

  • A cardboard box
  • A red paper sheet
  • Scissors
  • Markers

A useful exercise for irascible children can be to have an “anger box” with pieces of red paper inside. You can build and decorate it together and when he’s angry he can let off steam by throwing the pieces of paper all over the place, without hurting anyone. When he calms down, he will have to pick up the pieces and order the chaos created by that overwhelming emotion.

Inspired by the children’s book Vaya Rabieta!

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