Just like adults, children experience complex feelings such as anger, sadness, fear and jealousy. Without an adult’s support, it can be difficult for young children to recognise and communicate their feelings and, in a desperate attempt, may act out in physical, problematic ways.
As parents, it is vital to help name the feeling by developing the correct vocabulary to describe their emotional experiences. Instead of simply treating it as a discipline issue when your child is acting up, listen to your children’s feelings and learn the reason for their behaviour. This gesture will help develop your children’s social-emotional skills and to regulate their responses when challenges arise. After all, children who can manage their feelings will experience long-term benefits to their relationships and mental well-being. Here are some tips on how to encourage your child to identify, express and manage their feelings effectively.
Anger is an intense emotion, and many children struggle to differentiate between feeling angry and displaying aggressive behaviours, especially when the ‘fight’ response is triggered. Hence, it is essential to teach children how to recognise and assertively express their anger without being disrespectful or causing harm to themselves or others.
Instead of being quick to give harsh punishments, ignoring or giving in – work on connecting with your children by recognising their feelings while expressing that you do not condone their aggressive behaviour. Try saying, “It’s okay to feel angry, but it is not okay to hit someone or throw your toys around.” This helps them to still be in control of their actions even when they are feeling angry. It is also important to question their angry outbursts’ intent by considering the initial root cause, as sometimes our perceptions are not in tune with their reality. Try asking, “You must be mad that I wasn’t aware of what really happened. Can you tell me so I can understand better without the yelling?”.
The goal is to create or restore a safe space for your children to express themselves and feel understood, which will require your calm presence and patience. Remember to be age-appropriate. Try asking questions that would help them reflect on the matter and practice empathy. You can try relating the situation to a character from their favourite storybook or TV show, such as “How would this character feel?” It is also important as parents to be role models by knowing your own temper and taking responsibility for your behaviour when you lose your cool. Remember that your children are learning from watching how you handle angry feelings and conflicts.
Sadness is inevitable, yet it is a necessary emotion, as, without it, we wouldn’t know what joy is really like. Children can be sad for several reasons. It could be out of fear or when they miss someone. It could even be because they were disappointed when a playdate doesn’t happen.
It is essential to respond with empathy and sympathy rather than muting or trivialising your child’s feelings, even if their reason for being sad may seem ridiculous or insignificant to adults.
The key message that you can convey to your children during times of sadness is that you are there for them, which will help them feel less alone. Validate your children’s emotions and let them know that you have felt the same way before too. This can show that feeling sad is not something your children need to hide or feel ashamed of.
If your child can express themselves better through drawing, encourage them to draw or paint how they feel. This can help your children process their sad emotions more positively. A ‘feelings chart’ with emoji expressions can also help younger children relate to what they feel if they do not yet know how to express themselves in words yet.
Whether it’s the thought of monsters under the bed or the dark, fear can usually stem from the anxiety of the unknown or involve some level of perception about danger. Fear can manifest itself differently and can be especially hard for young children to process and cope with.
As parents, it is vital to acknowledge your children’s fears while listening calmly and providing them with the reassurance they need. Help them reframe their fearful thoughts by reasoning and asking specific questions about what they’re worried about. The goal is to dispel any misconceptions and fears instead of causing more worry. Sharing a feeling or story about a scary situation can help them relate and overcome their fears.
Jealousy is an unpleasant emotion where, at its core, it is about insecurity, inadequacy, which could stem from the fear of losing something, wanting what you never had or a sense of competition. When left unchecked, jealousy can lead to lowered self-esteem and, in worst cases, aggression towards other kids.
Ever heard your child saying, “Mom, why do all my friends get to have that toy and I don’t?”. When material jealousy arises, divert their focus onto non-monetary riches you can provide, such as your undivided attention or quality family time. By fostering a broader perspective for your children, they can learn to understand that every family has different living standards and can also teach your children to feel grateful for what they already have.
Comparing is also a very Asian style of parenting where your child could feel compared to their siblings or friends in their studies. Although parents can try to minimise this at home, the more positive way is to channel all this energy into motivating them to do better for themselves. Guide and help them understand what triggered their jealousy in the first place so that when they know the why behind the how, they will slowly learn to process the feeling and manage how they choose to react to their emotions.
So remember that although Asian families tend to suppress instead of openly talking about emotions, parents play an important role in addressing these four key emotions. When your child can understand and label the different feelings: anger, sadness, fear and jealousy, it helps them cope with emotion, understand others, and reduce challenging behaviour.