Happy, Sad, Mad, Scared....
Yes, we all have had a mix of emotions experienced in our lifetime, but did you know that very young children do too?
As early as 18 months children start to display empathy. This is not to be confused with sympathy. Empathy is the ability to feel another person’s pain and having an urge to want to soothe it. Empathy fuels connection and sympathy drives connection. This is a way for children to begin to understand how other people feel, even when they don't feel that way. This concept is introduced in early infancy. For example, when a baby cries and mommy or daddy comes to soothe them, this begins the process of learning how feelings and emotions connect with others. This continues to develop, as a child learns that certain cries or screams deem different reactions from caregivers. i.e. I need to be changed, held, fed, sleep, etc.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Understanding one's feeling early on can impact the connections children make as adults. Studies show that children who are empathetic tend to do better in school, in social situations, and in their adult careers. These skills provide a more compassionate relationship between individuals big and small. Most importantly we want to raise children who want to help one another, so that they can have a better understanding of the world around them.
HOW CAN WE DO THIS?
I like to use feeling identification to continue to teach my children the importance of empathy but also how to process feelings for themselves.
For a young child who experiences several emotions daily, having adults who validate those emotions as "real" can be substantial and gives them the ability to transfer that same notion to peers. For example: Karter is into the "it's mine" phase, no matter if it's hers or not. She will take Kennedy's toys and claim them, as well as other children her age. I will begin to explain to her "that makes Kennedy sad when you take her toys." She has begun to understand sad and hates for her sister to feel that way. Therefore giving back her toy because she feels empathy for her sister.
Understanding feelings helps children problem solve. As adults we can introduce this concept by labeling and validating our child's feelings very early. When your child is feeling sad, tell them, wow you look sad. If they are angry, tell them that. This makes them feel important. For a child they feel as if my parent really understands me. The worst thing a parent can do is to tell a child that they are not allowed to feel a certain way because they are a child or to tell them to suck it up. This can be very dis-empowering. As parents we don't need to place band aids to cover up the feeling, we focus more on the healing process to encourage growth.
To take it to the next step, begin to offer coping strategies. As adults we can't be productive if we stay in a certain emotion...mad, sad, angry, jealous. I like to teach my children that it's okay to experience feelings but what do we do about them. For example, if Kennedy is angry about doing homework, I will acknowledge that by stating "wow you seem upset you have to do homework" (i.e. validate). Then I'll go on to say "what can we do to make it better for you" (coping strategy). Same with my toddler Karter, "you are so SAD you have to share your toy" (validate). "Can you give mommy a hug to help you feel better or take turns" (coping strategy). This habit will allow your child to begin to understand their own emotions, but also how to get relief.
Here are some strategies I use to help teach my children the concept of feelings and emotions.
1. Books!!! This is awesome for toddlers as well as adolescents. Reading is the tool to help spark conversation. At beginner level they can begin to learn what feelings are and the faces to match. For older children this can be more about how to process feelings. Here are a few books I love.
2. Feeling Flashcards! This is just a extension of a book. It is more specific in nature. I use flashcards as a way to have conversations about the "feeling" and the moments my children have felt that way. Sometimes kids will describe a feeling and it's totally different from what they are displaying. Kennedy gets frustrated and angry confused. Although they may look the same they warrant different responses. This is a great way to make sure your child's feeling matches what they feel so that they have a better understanding on what to do with it.
3. Feeling Charts! When a child is experiencing a emotion, this could be a great quick reference to help children process quickly. I hung this up in my baby girl's room. When she gets upset, I'll point and say the feeling, and then try to redirect her behavior, or offer her a coping strategy such as blow some bubbles, count to 10, get a hug, rest, etc.
NOTE: If we are asking children to process emotions, be mindful about providing tools to help them process. Sensory items are great to help kids calm down, it literally slows down their heart rate. Offer a "calm space" for them to sqeeze a stress ball, hit their pillow, take deep breathes. Sounds familiar right? As adults we need to call a friend, listen to music, go workout. Same premise, same purpose.
4. Videos! You wouldn't believe how my toddler is already obsessed with YouTube. She loves watching some of the most weirdest videos of people opening eggs, or people being silly. I use this to my advantage. I have found some pretty amazing feeling songs. This is another reminder of how great sensory integration can be. Music is tied to memory. Check out "Super Simple Songs", they not only have an amazing "feeling song" they offer a palette of toddler/preschool friendly music. Check Karter out!
5. Pretend Play! Self explanatory, it's the foundation of learning for children. Use puppets to act out problem solving scenarios. Great learning tool and children love them!
Our early childhood experiences transpire into our adult lives. The more that goes into prepping our children the more impact we will have regarding their future.
Please check out my Pinterest account for all great ideas in regards to childhood emotions and feelings!