Many of us grew up believing we should not express our feelings. Instead, we should keep them to ourselves and just “suck it up!” But today’s parents are more enlightened. They understand the importance of helping children identify their feelings and express them in a positive way so they learn to manage their feelings effectively.
As grandparents, we can help our grandchildren develop these skills by encouraging them to talk about their feelings. Kids experience complex feelings just like adults. They get frustrated, excited, nervous, sad, jealous, frightened, worried, angry and embarrassed.
However, young kids usually don’t have the vocabulary to talk about how they are feeling. Instead they communicate their feelings in other ways – through facial expressions, through their body, their behavior and play. Sometimes they may act out their feelings in physical, inappropriate or problematic ways.
Kids learn how to identify, express and manage their feelings through their social interactions and relationships with important people in their lives such as parents and grandparents. So it’s important for us to model ways to express our feelings in front of our grandchildren and give them the opportunity to talk about how they’re feeling.
Books About Feelings
My 5-year old granddaughter has a hard time expressing her feelings. I shared my concerns with my daughter who’s a psychotherapist. She suggested giving Sophia (her neice) a book that her girls loved when they were Sophia’s age. My daughter said the books would help Sophia talk about her feelings instead of just getting frustrated and upset.
I bought three new books for Sophia that all dealt with feelings. We read the books together and she loved them.
When it was time to say goodbye to Sophia at the end of our wonderful weekend, I had the perfect opportunity to talk about our feelings. I could see she was getting teary and so was I.
I said to her: “We’ve had so much fun together playing at the park, playing games and reading. I feel really sad that you have to go home and I won’t see you in the morning. I remember when your cousins Juliet and Amelia were little and they would cry when I had to go home. When we’re having fun, it’s really hard to stop. We just want to keep on playing together. How are you feeling right now?”
She looked at me with a sad expression and tears started to fill her big brown eyes. I sniffled as I gave her a hug and let her see that I was crying too. Pretty soon her mom who was sitting beside us started getting teary.
“It’s good that we can let our tears flow to let out some of our sadness. That shows how much we love each other,” I told her.
Ways to Help Children Express Feelings
As you spend time with your grandchildren, pay attention to how they express their feelings. If they’re having a hard time, here are some ways to help them.
Tune into cues – Sometimes feelings can be hard to identify. Tune into your child’s feelings by looking at their body language, listening to what they’re saying and observing their behavior. By figuring out what they’re feeling, you can help them identify, express and manage those feelings better.
Behind every behavior is a feeling – Try to understand the meaning and feeling behind your child’s behavior. You can help your child find other ways to express that feeling once you know what is driving the behavior.
Name the feeling – Help your child name their feelings by giving them a label. Naming feelings is the first step in helping kids learn to identify them. It allows your child to develop an emotional vocabulary so they can talk about their feelings.
Identify feelings in others – Provide lots of opportunities to identify feelings in others. You might ask your child to reflect on what someone else may be feeling. Cartoons or picture books are a great way to discuss feelings and helps kids learn how to recognize other people’s feelings through facial expressions.
Make a feelings face chart – Show faces in different states of emotion to help children explain, and parents understand, just how they feel when they can’t find the words.
Be a role model – Kids learn about feelings and how to express them appropriately by watching others. Show your child how you’re feeling about different situations and how you deal with those feelings.
Encourage with praise – Praise your child when they talk about their feelings or express them in an appropriate way. Not only does it show that feelings are normal and it’s ok to talk about them, it reinforces the behavior so they are likely to repeat it.
Listen to the child’s feelings – Stay present and resist the urge to make your child’s bad feelings go away. Support your child to identify and express their feelings so they are heard. When feelings are minimized or dismissed, they will often be expressed in unhealthy ways.
Note: These tips are from Kids Helpline in Australia.