Q: “How to get children to be aware of their emotions and ways on how to handle them…not an easy one as even as adults we block, ignore, and explode. My kids are 4 yr. old boy and 7 yr. old girl.
A: Let me do some online-active-listening here.
“You’re asking me how to get a child to become aware of feelings, and how they should handle them once they’re aware of them. Is that what you meant to say?”
Even though you’re not sitting across from me, I’m guessing that reading my online-active-listening statement caused you to feel heard, right?
Unlocking BiG Emotions
Active listening is one of the keys that unlocks “big” emotions. Active listening not only allows the other person to feel heard, it also models the ebb and flow of communication. Once a child feels heard, (s)he can listen, because there’s no longer a need to use “big” emotions to express him/her self.
Pixar’s movie Inside Out
Remember the scenes in Inside Out? Those emotions were all very good friends, and tended to cluster together to resolve “big” emotions. When one “big” feeling emerged, there were several other feelings standing close by.
The movie brilliantly shows us that emotions are like building blocks. If one emotion emerges and isn’t noticed, the emotion combines with a different emotion, and emerges again. This continues and continues till the emotions get noticed, and resolution can occur.
Short-term or Long-term
Learning about emotions is a process, not a one-shot deal, and childhood is the time when that process takes place. In other words, teaching kids about emotions, is a long-term project.
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton states in Touchpoints, “Children need to know they can manage their aggressive feelings, they need to know they can feel anger and not lose control.” Kids learn that lesson by seeing you keep your cool, even when they can’t.
To help kids become aware of feelings, so they can learn how to manage them, you need to normalize them. Talk about emotions all-the-time. and in as many different circumstances as you can.
Before you begin
Make sure you’ve taught your child how to:
• calm down, e.g. how to use mindful breathing
• speak about feelings, in other words, give emotions a name
Expose kids to others who are having “big” emotions, and ask them questions about whether or not that child could have handled things differently, and how? This allows you to see your child’s level of understanding, and see if any other skills need to be taught.
Reading situations, and others
Asking specific questions is the perfect mindful tool to use here. Asking specific, mindful, teaching questions allows you to understand the thinking process your child used to address his feelings, or the situation.
Mindful, teaching questions move a child’s brain from being consumed or flooded by emotions, to being able to take a breath and think logically, even though they’re too young know how to switch from emotional to logical thinking.
These questions include ways to:
• resolve a situation, so kids learn that they need to take responsibility for their actions
• addresses the impact the “big” emotions have had on others who were involved
• begin discussing better ideas for expressing “big” feelings and actions.
Watch a TV show— read a book
TV and books allow a child to see how others deal with emotions, and how any mistaken decisions occurred. TV and books create a great opportunity to discuss what the emotional warning signs were for the characters, so a child learns how to spot, and resolve, these clues in themselves.
Hope this helps.
Now, go hug your kids.