Helping Your Children Express Their Feelings
Discussing emotions with your children can sometimes be tough, but it's worth doing the work.
Having a chat with your children about their thoughts and feelings can be an extremely rewarding experience, but sometimes it can also be a fraught and frustrating affair. For some children, it’ll take every ounce of a parent’s effort to extract complete sentences from them. Other times, it may seem as though the two of you are having completely separate conversations. Even if your child was once open with you, big transitions like puberty or even a family change by way of divorce can cause them to shut down. If you’re having trouble communicating with your children after your divorce, the difficult conversations you have can begin to overshadow the other times when you successfully connect with each other. Before that happens, consider these tips for helping your children express their feelings.
Preschoolers and Emotional Communication
It may seem impossible to adequately explain difficult situations, especially when your children are younger. Your children may likely have questions and worries about more mature topics, like your separation or conflict in general, but may not be able to express their concerns verbally because they don’t have the right vocabulary to communicate their feelings. Instead, they may often physically act out feelings of embarrassment, frustration, sadness, or anger. With young children, parents may be able to provide the necessary framework for their children by supplying age-appropriate words for more complex feelings.
Children are constantly in the process of learning how to form more complicated thoughts to share feelings, especially preschool-age children. By providing the words for different emotions, you’re giving them the tools they need to better express their emotional needs as they grow. Consider also taking the time to explain your own emotions in simpler terms, particularly when your child sees you frustrated or upset. By talking about your own emotions, you’ll be doing the double-duty of providing a new language for their own expression, but also showing them that talking about feelings is a normal and welcome topic of conversation.
School-Age Children and Complex Emotions
With older children, they most likely have a firmer grasp of cause-and-effect and do not require you to ask leading questions to help them voice their feelings. Instead of the general questions that you may have asked your preschooler, try sparking conversation with your grade-schooler by asking about specific details when it comes to their thoughts and feelings. Listen attentively to their answers and ask follow-ups. Your child may still be young, but treating them more maturely in conversation may provide them with the confidence to share more.
As children grow, they also become more critical of their parents’ behaviours. They may develop a hyper-awareness of any mistakes or inconsistent positions their parents may occasionally take. When you slip-up with how you display your emotions or communicate with others, make a point of apologising to your child for engaging in poor communication. Mistakes happen, especially when it comes to our language and how we interact with others. Humbly acknowledging those mistakes can help teach your children how to cope with and make amends for their own communication missteps in the future.
No matter the age of your child, when communicating about emotions and more complex thoughts, it’s important to be positive about your child opening-up in the first place. It may sometimes be difficult to handle the emotions your child expresses, but it’s important for parents to emphasise that sharing one’s feelings in an appropriate manner is positive, even when it’s difficult. Discussion about different types of emotion doesn’t have to come solely from parents, however. Exposure to different types of age-appropriate media that demonstrate dealing with diverse emotions can go a long way in helping your child learn more about how to manoeuvre interpersonal relationships as they grow. By discussing emotions with your child, as well as immersing them in healthy representations of how people react to different situations, you’ll be providing them with a robust framework for processing their own feelings well into adulthood.