Little People, Big Feelings

It’s been a year of big feelings, for all of us.  Big feelings, scary feelings, overwhelming feelings, and yet we have mostly continued to dig deep, push forward and take action in the midst of this storm of feelings.  This is emotional resilience at its core and one of our skills that has been put to the test the most during this pandemic.  Like never before, we are all having to find ways to identify, name, talk about and cope with our feelings.

We know that Emotional Literacy is important – it is about being able to identify, understand and manage our emotions in a positive and healthy way. Emotional intelligence (otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ) is a skill linked strongly to social competence, self-awareness, motivation and self-control.  We all want our children to be able to appropriately regulate their emotions.  A healthy EQ even positively affects our self-esteem and academic purpose. Emotional development involves learning what feelings are, understanding how and why they happen, recognising one’s own feelings and those of others, and developing effective ways of handling the feelings experienced. When children are aware of their feelings and are able to cope with them, they are better able to handle stressful situations when they occur.

And yet, this is so often a skill that we as adult’s struggle with, and struggle to help our children develop.  While we can recognize the importance of EQ and emotional literacy, just how to we go about cultivating these skills?  Here are some ways to start:

  • Connect with your children’s feelings: Tune in to what your child is feeling. Be aware of their body language, listen to what they are saying as well as the way in which it is being said, and observe their behaviour. Understanding what your child is trying to tell you helps you to better respond to their needs of the child and assist them with appropriately managing their emotions.
  • Help children recognise and understand feelings: Talking to children about their feelings helps them to become more aware of their emotions. Talking to children about your own emotions also helps them to understand and be aware of the emotions of others, encouraging empathy.  Four main feelings that children feel and express and that may be easier to identify are: happy, sad, scared and angry.  Try to focus on these.
  • Set boundaries on unhelpful ways of expressing feelings: It is important that children know that all their feelings are okay but that the way in which they are expressed needs to positive and healthy. Limits needs to be set on behaviour that is aggressive, destructive or hurtful.  A simply way to do this is to age appropriately say, “It’s okay to be angry but it’s not okay to hurt yourself or others”.
  • Be a role model: Children learn about their emotions and how to express them by observing others, especially the main caregivers in their lives. It is important that you lead by example and assist children to find positive and helpful ways to express their emotions. This means that we need to be comfortable with, and manage our own emotions. When we are able to regulate our own feelings we are better equipped to help our children now how to regulate their own.

With all this in mind,  you might be left wondering just how to start to do this in your home.  One of the most well documented ways is through play! Here are some ideas that you could include in your family time:

  • Simon Says:  Show a sad face, or an angry face. Try a happy, scared or worried face?  Practice making faces together and name those feelings! 
  • Dance to a beat that is angry, sad, or make a beat and asking players to identify what it sounds like in terms of feelings.
  • Feelings Charades:  Act out an emotion without using words and the other players need to guess the feeling.
  • Board games:  What does it mean to be a good loser? Or gracious winner? How does it feel to take turns – these are some seemingly simple concepts that are often a challenge for our children to integrate. Or use a game like UNO with different colours to talk about different feelings – talk about a time you felt sad when a blue card is played, or angry with a red card.  Yellow could represent happy and green, jealous or scared.  Have fun sharing about feelings!

We recognise that teaching our kids about feelings and helping them come up with new ways they can cope with them takes lots of time, consistency and patience but the payoffs are huge.  A healthy emotional intelligence helps us navigate the world more appropriately and positively. And who doesn’t want that for their child?