Friday, June 10, 2011

Basic But Necessary

Teaching kids to identify their feelings starts at a really young age.  Even when talking to my infant child I say things like, "Look at the happy baby," or, "Look at that grumpy face." This is common.  You hear moms and dads doing this all the time.  What you do not always see are parents making a conscious effort to build on these basic blocks.

One of the first things you can do is make sure that your child knows the basic emotions:  happy, sad, angry, and scared.  You will know that they are old enough to do this when they are able to say and demonstrate these emotions.  You can do this in a game format or even by drawing pictures and having them point to the different emotions.

After the child can identify the basic feelings in pictures or in games you can begin helping them recognize the emotions as they experience them.  For example, when your toddler is crying because someone took his toy you can say, "You are upset!  Are you scared or mad right now?"

If the child says, "mad," then you can respond, "I would be mad too if someone took my toy. Would you like for me to help you?"  Then proceed to model conflict resolution.  Even if you don't know the other child involved I have never have had another parent get upset that I calmly illustrated how to share, so I wouldn't worry about offending the other parent and go ahead and model appropriate play.

If the child doesn't appear to know the answer or seems confused then give an opposite choice.  For example, you can say, "Are you crying because you are happy?" They will say no, and then you can walk through the different emotions and help them identify what it is they feel.  Once you have helped them identify the emotion then model conflict resolution.

It is important to let them know that it is okay to have strong feelings.  Something I say often to my kids is, "It is okay to be angry, but hitting is not okay (or whatever they are doing inappropriately). I would be angry too if that happened to me."  This tells them that they are not bad for having strong feelings and when you show empathy it begins to defuse the situation.

This lesson continues as they grow.  You will move past the basic emotions and start identifying more specific emotions like frustration and jealously.  The words you use may not be as elementary, but the process remains the same.  First, reiterate that it is okay to have the emotion, second show empathy, and third ask them if they would like for you to help them find a solution. 

I know this seems really basic, but before you dismiss it, try it.  The next time your little darling (or even big darling) is upset, see if they can identify what they feel and then empathize with them. Their future friends, teachers, spouses, and coworkers will thank you.

I am pretty sure the first 5 years of my marriage would have been a lot easier if I would have learned to identify and discuss my feelings at the age of 3 instead of 27!

1 comment:

  1. I love this post! I just had a conversation about this with a friend yesterday afternoon, and now you write this post... maybe it's something I need to be more aware of with my little girlies... they just cry. Using words is so hard! I love this post, and sometimes because it seems so basic we look right past it. Thanks for another great post!