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Learning How to Understand and Manage Emotions: Children and and Adolescents

One of the crucial elements of a child's development is the ability to understand and manage emotions effectively. From a young age, children experience intense feelings, but they need help to recognize and manage them properly. So parents play a vital role in helping their children develop emotional intelligence that will help them move through adolescence and adulthood. This post will highlight the importance of managing emotions and how parents can help their children develop this vital skill through play and relaxation.

Supporting Young Children: Recognizing Emotions Through Play

Children experience emotions well before they can express or name them fully. This can be a frustrating experience for many children, as they don't know how to deal with mixed emotions like excitement, fear, shame, or sadness. One way to help young children recognize and name their emotions is through play. Playing helps children learn to process their emotions without feeling overwhelmed. For instance, a child may pretend to be a doctor, and in the process, he/she can pretend to diagnose different emotions like sadness, anger, and happiness. Through this kind of play, children identify emotions that they experience and learn how to deal with them.

You can help your child learn emotions by naming them too. Try these practical tips:

  1. When you see your child have a feeling - name it and talk about it. For example if they frown, say "You look sad! Is it because play time is over?". "You're smiling, are you happy because mummy is home?"

  2. Name the feelings you see on other people. For example "Daddy is happy because you gave him a cuddle!" or "Your brother is scared because he heard a loud noise? But he's ok, we're ok".

Developing Emotional Language: Encouraging Children to Express How They Feel

To learn how to manage their feelings, children must first learn to identify and express them correctly. Encouraging a child to talk about how they are feeling and what might be causing that emotion helps them develop emotional language. For instance, if a child describes feeling 'mad,' you could ask them why they feel that way. Some children may respond by listing the things that caused that anger; others may struggle to explain why. This struggle is alright, but it shows that the child needs help in developing their emotional vocabulary further.

You can help your child by talking about emotions they see in others and themselves. Try these practical tips:

  1. Read books! There are lots of books about feelings, but most children's books will have pictures of emotional faces you can use. Here are some of my favourites:

  2. Talk about TV! Kids are usually invested in the shows they watch - so naming the feelings of characters and talking about why they feel that way can be helpful. I get really annoying and pause the show to ask these kinds of questions!!

  3. Help make the link between the feelings and the body signs. This can help kids recognise the beginnings of feelings (as in when the feelings are small) - which they need to do to be able to catch them early and do something about it. You could say "You look angry, does your jaw feel tight?" or "You look nervous, do you have a funny tummy?".

Assistance for Pre-teens and Adolescents in Managing Strong Emotions:

As children grow older, they face stronger and more complex emotions that they may not fully understand. This can be frustrating and lead to them feeling isolated, particularly during difficult times. Parents can help by talking to their preteens and adolescents about their emotional journey and encouraging them to share their experiences. Offering a gentle approach and a listening ear can help them work through intense emotions like grief, embarrassment, and disappointment.

Teens still need a bit of support (called scaffolding) to help them with this. It's like little reminders while they're processing their feelings. Try these practical tips:

  1. Tell them when you see them start to get upset, and suggest they take a few minutes before continuing. You might say "You look upset, take a breath before we continue", or ""Let's take a 5 minute break and come back to this".

  2. If your teen is upset you can model emotional regulation by saying "You're upset. I'm getting upset too, I'm going to walk away and teak a break - we can talk about this later".

Warning Signs of Difficulty in Managing Emotions:

All children need help and support during challenging times, and they may struggle to manage their emotions. While it is reasonable for children to experience mood swings, an adult should take note of the signs of severe emotional distress. These warning signs include excessive sadness, rage, anxiety, and self-harm tendencies. Parents should be vigilant and seek professional help when they notice these signs.

Encouraging Self-Care at All Ages:

Helping children to manage their emotions also involves teaching them about self-care. Encouraging them to take breaks, rest, eat healthily, exercise, and engage in activities that make them happy set the foundation for good mental health. Many children can be too busy and forget that self-care is critical. Parents should emphasize the importance of taking good care of themselves, and in doing so, set a good example for their children.

In conclusion, it is vital to help children learn to understand and cope with their emotions through childhood and adolescence. By practising through play and relaxation techniques and learning emotional language and good self-care habits, children can develop the emotional intelligence necessary to become happy and healthy adults. Although the journey can be challenging, the reward of having children who are emotionally stable, happy, and resilient is worth the effort. As parents, we have the responsibility of helping our children become strong both emotionally and physically.


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