This is a guest blog by Melanie Phillips, LMSW. Melanie is a one of the talented counselors that practices at Brittani Persha Counseling, a local child and family counseling practice.
Taming the Emotional Rollercoaster:
Talking to Kids about Feelings
Do you ever feel like your child lives on a non-stop emotional rollercoaster of high highs and low lows? That a day with them is like hopping on the Iron Rattler at Six Flags? With it’s dips, slopes, turns, and 171-foot drop, you have no idea what to expect next. Does your child seem happy and carefree one moment and the next they’re overcome with feelings? Maybe they throw something, hit someone, or sob uncontrollably. Do you ever feel like you hop on the rollercoaster with them? Do you sometimes feel afraid that your fun, enjoyable day will turn miserable if a big feeling takes over? If you prefer to be in control and fear the unexpected, this roller coaster ride can be unpleasant.
Many parents can attest to experiencing this fear of their child’s fluctuating emotions. We want to provide you with tools you can use to enhance your confidence and talk to your kids about what they’re feeling.
- The first step is learning the secrets behind your child’s brain and emotional development. Visit our blog: Tantrums, Meltdowns, and Outbursts: Secrets Inside Your Child’s Developing Brainto learn some basics that can guide you.
- The next step is learning strategies for talking to them about overwhelming feelings.
- Lastly, providing them with the necessary social and emotional skills to identify and verbalize feelings in themselves and others.
We may not be able to stop the rollercoaster, but we can help you learn to transform it into a less scary ride, like the Kiddee Koaster. Now, that sounds much more pleasant…
Although feeling emotions is an innate human experience, understanding them and expressing them in healthy ways doesn’t come as naturally.
Most children need to be taught the intricacies of feelings.
Which emotion corresponds to a sensation in the body? Which scenarios trigger which emotions? Which facial expression corresponds to which emotion?
Some kids have more difficulty with this than others. Some kids may think more logically or factually. Therefore, they may need help learning to get in touch with feelings and expressing those feelings to you. Others might be more naturally emotional and might need less help expressing their feelings and more help coping with them.
When children understand their feelings they cope better in school, in social situations, and adjust better to stressful situations!
When teaching your child about feelings, you will focus on two aspects:
- Recognizing Emotions: identifying and labeling an emotion expressed by the face, voice, or body
- Understanding Emotions: what can cause specific emotions and how to manage them
We will tackle some games and activities for teaching emotional recognition and understanding later.
**First and most important is to consistently communicate to your child that you’re not afraid of their feelings!**
Gone are the days where we tell our children:
Don’t be scared. That shouldn’t make you angry. Calm down. That is not something to cry about.
Feeling overwhelmed by your children’s emotional outbursts or meltdowns is part of being a parent, especially when your kid is still learning to regulate their own emotions. It is so hard not to turn to the phrases above in those moments. Even when you are feeling overwhelmed, it is important to express to your child that you accept and value their feelings. This means showing an interest in their positive and negative feelings, connecting with them during emotional experiences, and encouraging them to express their feelings.
ACCEPTANCE is KEY!
Acceptance of ALL Feelings (responding equally to happy and distressing feelings) = Freedom of Emotional Expression = Valuable Learning
- What causes them to feel certain emotions
- The consequences of expressing feelings in an unhealthy way
- Skills to cope with difficult emotions.
While it’s important to give your child freedom to express their feelings, it’s equally important to openly express your feelings in a way that children can cope with and understand.
When you hide or mask your feelings, you’re missing out on an awesome opportunity to teach your child that we all have big feelings and that we can learn healthy ways to express them.
Research has shown that kids who are taught that emotions are valuable, not bad or scary, are better able to regulate their emotions, understand others’ emotions and show less aggression in the classroom.
How Does This Look in Real Life…
So how, exactly, do we talk about feelings with our kids? According to How to Talk So Your Child Will Listen, it’s useful to encourage children to share feelings in the moment they’re feeling them. Explain to your child that feelings are a source of energy and when we share this energy with other people, it helps us get rid of stress. Keeping feelings inside can make us feel sick and overwhelmed and might cause us to do or say things we normally wouldn’t. You can use the following analogy from How to Talk So Your Child Will Listen:
“Burying your feelings is like burying a stick of dynamite inside you. Someday it may explode when you least expect it”
If your child continuously struggles to express themselves, model the behavior for them by sharing your feelings regularly.
Feeling Talk Activities
Now for the good stuff! Below are strategies and activities to start a conversation about feelings and teach your child emotional knowledge. By practicing these regularly, you can strengthen their emotional intelligence and relationship skills.
- Name the Feeling for Them: When your child is having a big feeling, sit close to him and quietly verbalize what he or she might be feeling. You’ll teach self-control and that you’re not afraid of your child’s feelings. An example might be, Josh is becoming increasingly frustrated as the train tracks are not fitting together like he wants. You might say, “It is so frustrating how those are not going together like you want.”
- Emotions Charades: Using facial expressions, act out a feeling and ask your child to guess what the feeling is, then switch roles.
- Emotional Vocabulary: Increase your child’s vocabulary of feeling words by using alternatives to the basic sad, mad, or happy. Instead use frustrated, grumpy, excited, etc.
- Mirroring:Facing your child, tell him to pretend that he is looking into a mirror. First, explain that you will make a facial expression. Then, explain that his job is to make the exact same facial expression as you. Switch roles.
- Big & Small Emotions: Using the same concept as mirroring, tell your child to mirror your emotion but make it bigger or smaller (example: you have an angry face and you tell your child to copy your expression but bigger, or a more intense version).
- Opposite Emotion Mirror:Same concept, but ask your child to make the expression of the opposite emotion you’re expressing.
- Emotion Dial: Start by asking your child to name an emotion that you will act out. While acting it out, they will change the “volume” of the emotion by turning the imaginary dial on your nose. If they turn it to the right, the emotion becomes more intense. If they turn it to the left, it becomes less intense. Switch roles.
- Empathy Building:While reading a book or watching a movie or TV show, ask your child to talk about how the characters might be feeling in different scenes.
We Can Help
Hopefully these activities will strengthen your connection with your child and strengthen their social and emotional skills. For more information about our practice visit our website at https://brittanipershacounseling.com. If you found this helpful, click below to subscribe to our newsletter for more information and tools geared towards supporting all those on the journey of parenthood.
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By: Melanie Phillips, LMSW @ Brittani Persha Counseling
14760 Memorial Dr., Ste. 107 Houston, TX 77079