Empowering our children to express emotions in a healthy way. With altered routines, less time with friends and even a disruption to their sense of safety and security, it’s been a tough year for our kids. It’s no secret that children are resilient, but while many may appear to have been incredibly adaptable through the changes and challenges of the past year, they’re likely feeling a lot of strong emotions.
Particularly this year, children of all ages may be experiencing negative emotions more often, such as anger, fear and anxiety. But the fact is that before the pandemic started, we were already in a mental health crisis for children in this country. And if these emotions aren’t addressed in a healthy way, strong negative emotions like anger and fear can have lasting effects on kids’ mental health.
Children will experience a wide range of emotions, and they should. While it’s important that we as parents validate our children’s feelings, it is equally beneficial for us to ensure our children develop language to identify the emotions they are experiencing. For kids, learning to understand and manage their emotional experience is necessary for long-term mental health.
When we have strong emotions that might impact our behavior or our ability to function, we need to be able to recognize, express, and regulate those emotions rather than letting our anxiety take over or our sadness limit our functioning for long periods of time. We can give kids the tools to cope with emotions as they feel them, communicate how they need help, and get those emotions back to a manageable level.
Emotional empowerment is a series of skills children can start learning at a young age and build over time. Activities can be as simple as stopping to do some deep breathing or reading a book with a parent and discussing how the characters may be feeling.
There are five stages parents and caregivers can lead children through in order to empower them to express their motions in a healthy way.
- Identify Emotions: Helping a child build their emotional language gives them a better understanding of how to use words to express how they are feeling.
- Recognize Emotions: Many people – both kids and adults – find it tough to recognize emotions as they are feeling them. We can create a mental habit of doing a self-check and adjust our thoughts and behaviors based on how we feel.
- Understand Emotions in Others: Noticing and understanding emotions in people around you is crucial for forming and maintaining close personal relationships, and a core component of empathy.
- Express Emotions Appropriately: It’s important to learn how to communicate all emotions we feel, but some are more difficult to express than others. Children can learn how to express any emotion they feel in an appropriate way.
- Regulate Strong Emotions: Regulating strong emotions and having a balanced state of mind is an important part of the developmental process. Learning foundational skills early helps kids keep their emotions from taking over.
For kids, learning ways to reduce overpowering feelings through emotion regulation is essential when they become overwhelmed by strong negative emotions and their ability to function is affected. Children who learn these skills at earlier ages are better able to manage their daily emotional experiences.
We can be more purposeful about teaching children about their emotions and helping them gain these skills early in life, which only helps with their resilience and their ability to withstand challenges that they might face in the future.