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Step by Step – How to talk to your kids about their feelings?

Updated: Apr 1, 2022

As adults, we sometimes find that we a not equipped to emotionally process a situation like losing a loved one or facing the aftermath of a traumatic accident. Some of us lean on our friends and family, and others seek out therapists to make sense of what has happened.

In the same way, expecting our children to always be on their best behaviour and tantrum-free is unrealistic and simply unfair. Children are not tiny adults!

As parents, we play a crucial role in our child's ability to persevere when the going gets tough. Researchers have found that when parents emotionally "coach" their children, they adapt to challenging circumstances much more readily. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to recognise emotion, identify and name an emotion, and manage emotions in a way that is adaptative and rooted in empathy for others. Emotional intelligence is something that is learned over time.

Before we begin, there is a small but fundamental difference between feelings and emotions. Feelings are experienced consciously, while emotions can manifest either consciously or subconsciously. A great way to start emotionally processing something is getting comfortable with talking about our feelings.

We put together 4 simple questions you can ask your child to get them talking about their feelings.

What colour does your feeling feel like?

Colours often invoke feelings like yellow for joy, blue for calm, or red for anger. In the same way, we may use colours to describe how we might be feeling.

Attaching colours to a feeling can help your child conceptualise the emotion they are experiencing.

Show me where do you feel this colour in your body?

When you are embarrassed, your cheeks start turning warm and red. When you are anxious your chest may feel tight. When you are nervous, your tummy may start to hurt. When we are afraid, we feel heightened.

This is how feelings manifest in our bodies.

How big is this feeling?

When we worry about something, a good exercise can be visualising this worry as a box. How big is this box? What does it look like? Is it clear? Is it coloured? What colour is the box?

The same can be done for feelings. They can feel big or small to children. Being sad can be overwhelming. Being happy can be all-encompassing.

If you could touch this feeling, what would it feel like?

Joy can feel soft like a puppy. Contentment can be a snuggle under a warm blanket. Anger can feel like a sharp cactus. Sadness could feel like cold water. Nervousness could be wobbly like a piece of jelly.

Emotional intelligence requires children to use a part of their brain that is still developing. Your child does not have all the "equipment" needed to control their impulses, identify their feelings or emotions, and express their feelings or emotions. Our home environment is the primary influence in shaping the way we respond to things. When you work with your child, you empower them to build on ways to handle their feelings and emotions well.

You can "catch" your child just when they're about to experience an episode, as you know your child the best. You know the triggers; you understand how they are when they're tired and starting to be cranky. Label those feelings or emotions, reflect on those feelings or emotions presently with your child and work together with your child as they are dealing with a feeling or emotion to know that they are not alone. Being solution-based around feelings and emotion teaches your child how to move past and start responding productively to their situation.

If you would like to speak to a qualified Play therapist to learn how your child could benefit from play therapy, click here to schedule a complimentary consultation today or take our quiz!

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