When children are experiencing big emotions, it’s very important that the adults around them, caregivers in particular, are able to help the child process these feelings in a healthy and safe way. Children are learning the skill of emotional regulation, just like they are learning many other skills. They are not born knowing how to do this.
According to the US Department of Education, 87% of public schools say that the Pandemic has negatively impacted the social-emotional development of children. This makes it more important than ever for adults and caregivers to show children how to properly handle their emotions. Let’s look at a few tips on how to do this.
Avoid Inflicting Judgement
The first thing adults can do to help children process their big emotions is to stop judging the child for expressing how they feel. Emotions are morally neutral; they are neither bad nor good. Emotions are just our nervous system’s way of reacting to stimuli in our environment. Children need to feel that they are allowed to feel any emotion and that they are not wrong to have it.
Often, parents, teachers, and caregivers start judging the emotion because the emotion is inconvenient to deal with. If a child is feeling disappointed in the grocery store because they didn’t get a snack, that feels like an inconvenient time to deal with that emotion. The adult may start to judge the emotion and make the child feel that having it is wrong. If you feel that a child is having unusual emotions or disproportionate emotions, you might want to consider psychological testing.
Focus on Proper Expression of Emotion
Rather than judge the emotion as good or bad, it’s far more important to focus on teaching the child the proper and socially acceptable way to express the emotion. There are proper ways to express any emotion, even negative emotions. For instance, disappointment in the grocery store can be properly expressed by simply using words. Using “I feel” statements is a great way to start.
You can guide the child to express the emotion in words, and then help the child in some type of physical expression that is appropriate. For instance, they may want to be hugged when they feel disappointed. They may want to close their eyes and breathe. These are acceptable ways to express disappointment. If you feel that your child is reacting in a concerning way to small triggers, psychological testing may help.
It’s also healthy to assure children that they can express emotions with you. You are a safe place to express any emotion. If they’re angry, even if they are angry at you, they need to feel that they can express that without fear. Psychological safety is just as important as having a physical place they can feel safe. Don’t underestimate the power of feeling comfortable to express emotions with a trusted caregiver.
Psychological testing is available for children who struggle with their emotions, but always ensure that you as a caregiver are laying the groundwork for the comfortable expression of emotions. Give us a call today for more tips or to set up an appointment for our counseling services.