My Roller-Coaster Emotions

My Roller-Coaster Emotions

Humans are gifted with the ability to feel and express their emotions freely!

We have the flexibility to feel an array of emotions, be it fear, anger, frustration, disappointment, happiness and a thousand more. But what is important is how and when we express them!

You and I know that it is inappropriate to burst out our words of anger in a public place or suppress our emotions such that we don’t burst out laughing when in a lecture theatre. This is because we can regulate our emotions.

Although, this comes naturally to us, it is not so easy for most of our children. They have a hard time expressing their emotions appropriately, for a right situation and then learning how to move on.

There are a number of reasons why children vary in the way they express and manage their emotions. Children learn different ways of expressing emotions based on what they see from their environment, family and culture. Learning to regulate emotions is more difficult for some children than for others. Some children feel emotions intensely/easily and are more sensitive than others.

Teaching a child to manage emotions?

Helping children learn to accept feelings and to understand the links between feelings and behavior, supports their emotional development. The following example shows how Josh’s mother listens carefully and asks questions that help to identify the feelings that led him to be upset.

Josh became upset when he fell off the skateboard and the other boys laughed at him. He got angry with them and told his mother they were mean. Here Josh’s mother supports his emotional development by helping him to explore his feelings.

Josh: “Those boys are really mean.”
Mum: “It sounds like you’re really angry with them. What happened?”
Josh: “They laughed at me.”
Mum: “Oh, I see. Do you know what they were laughing about?”
Josh: “I fell off the skateboard. It wouldn’t turn the way it was supposed to.”
Mum: “It sounds like it was really hard.”
Josh: “Yes.”
Mum: “And you were trying really hard too.”
Josh: (Nods).

Acknowledging and exploring his feelings helps Josh feel understood. This makes it easier for him, with his mother’s help, to think carefully about what he can do to improve the situation and feel better. Josh’s mother could support this next step by asking him what he thinks would make things better for him. She might also suggest some options for him to consider. Approaching Josh’s difficulty this way shows him that difficult emotions are linked to problems that can be thought through and resolved.

Key points for supporting children’s emotional development:

Children’s abilities for recognizing, understanding and managing their emotions are influenced by the ways the adults who care for them acknowledge and respond to their feelings.

Helpful ways to adopt:

Listen and validate the child’s emotional experience
Listen to what children say and acknowledge their feelings. This helps children to identify emotions and understand how they work. Being supported in this way helps children work out how to manage their emotions.

View emotions as an opportunity for connecting and teaching
Children’s emotional reactions provide ‘teachable moments’ for helping them understand emotions and learn effective ways to manage them.

Encourage problem-solving to manage emotions
Help children develop their skills for managing emotions by helping them think of different ways they could respond.

Set limits in a supportive way
Set limits on inappropriate behavior so that children understand that having feelings is okay, but acting inappropriately is not.

Some unhelpful things to avoid:

Dismissing children’s emotions
Telling children not to feel the way they do (eg, by saying, “Don’t be scared/sad/angry”), can lead children to believe that their emotions are wrong and they are bad for having them. Remember that all feelings are okay and for children to learn how to manage them they first need to be acknowledged and understood.

Lying to children about situations to avoid emotional reactions
Telling children things like, “It won’t hurt a bit” (when you know it will), can actually increase the emotional reaction. It teaches them not to trust the person who has lied. Providing information to children at their level, with reassurance, helps them be prepared and work out ways to manage their emotional responses.

Shaming children for their emotions
Sometimes adults tease children about their emotional responses or try to talk them out of feeling a certain way, which can lead feelings of shame. Instead of helping them to feel brave it may lead them to feel guilty for experiencing that emotion.

Ignoring children’s emotional responses
Sometimes adults may think that the child will just grow out of their emotional responses and ignore them. This can communicate to children that their emotions are unimportant and limits their opportunities to learn effective ways of managing their emotions.

To conclude, I would like to share the belief that no emotion is right or wrong. It’s fine to be anxious sometimes and super excited at other times. Feeling varied emotions is normal, but learning to regulate emotions, is the missing piece of the huge puzzle, for most of our children, that often get missed out.