When your kids were in diapers, they depended on you for everything. They were voiceless and, in many ways, helpless. Your guidance was all they had to steer them in the right direction as they grew up. But with time, they become their own people. They handpick their friends, they gravitate toward certain activities and they find their favorite hobbies. And while your influence is still key, it’s no longer the only influence on their lives.
With that said, it takes time to grow into our feelings, and your kids will experience many ups and downs as their emotional intelligence begins to take form. When they come to you to talk about their feelings, you want to be prepared. Here are a few ways to help our kids express their feelings in an appropriate way.
- Open Up To Them
The world of parenting is one that plays the monkey see, monkey do game. As hard as it may be for you to open up to your kids and talk about your own feelings, it’s a beneficial way to connect with them and encourage them to be open about their feelings. Don’t worry – it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s quite the opposite actually. They need to understand that 100% of the emotions they feel are okay; it’s how they respond to them that’s most important.
- Put a Positive Spin on Emotions
It’s common to fall into the trap of associating feelings with negative things. Typical parent quotes like, “Don’t whine so much,” or “Don’t lose your temper,” will actually jade your child’s perception of emotions. Although whining and temper tantrums are less than desirable, they’re part of the emotions your kid may be experiencing, so you shouldn’t trivialize them. Help guide them through the maze of their feelings and give them the support they need to gain confidence in expressing how they feel in a positive way.
- Keep Everything in Moderation
If you talk to your kids about feelings all the time, they’ll start to get tired of it. Keep your “feeling chats” in moderation, and chat with them when they really need to get something off their chest. The gut instinct as a parent is to try and shield our kids from all type of pain. What they really need is firsthand experience in dealing with uncomfortable emotions like sadness, anxiety, and embarrassment. Hardship is part of life, and “taking a step back” and allowing them to experience it firsthand helps them to grow into functional, well-adjusted adults.
- Be an Active Listener
When you have little kids, you get very used to holding the “talking stick.” But when you’re trying to be in tune with your kids and their feelings, you should take a step back and actively listen. Show your kids that you’re there for them and that you won’t interrupt them or try to rush them when they talk to you. Listening to them shows that you acknowledge their feelings as being real and that you’ll provide the support they need to handle whatever difficulties they may be facing. Practice getting good at listening with the intention to understand them, not just to be a sound board.
- Positive Reinforcement
You’ve probably heard about positive reinforcement. In the context of discussing feelings, it means encouraging your kids to talk about their feelings by showing them you’re proud of them for opening up. At the end of a discussion, say something like, “I want to thank you for coming to me about this. It’s really big of you.” Use your own words; just find a way to show them they’re doing the right thing by talking about their feelings. With our positive support, they’ll gain confidence in themselves and trust that they can handle whatever difficulties life throws their way.
Whether it’s playground drama or an adjustment period at school, kids experience all kinds of confusing feelings as they grow up. As parents, we need to prioritize teaching them the basic emotional intelligence skills they’ll need to manage their emotions in a constructive way. All children (and most adults) need help and guidance, and even if they deny needing assistance, you should make sure they know you’ll always be there with wide-open arms.