Helping Children Manage Their Emotions
Parents naturally want their children to lead happy, successful lives. When parents observe frequent temper outbursts and notice their child’s inability to play well with others, they worry that those behaviors will interfere with their child’s present or future success. Certainly we know that an individual’s abilities to manage emotions and get along with others are important factors in success at school and work. But what exactly does “managing emotions” and “getting along with others” mean? How can parents help their children handle those emotions and act accordingly?
The first step is helping children recognize and name their feelings. Young children typically “act out” their feelings. Stomping their feet, slamming the door, yelling, crying, pouting and withdrawing are typical ways children act out feelings and communicate different degrees of different emotions. Parents can help their children by interpreting these behaviors using an emotional vocabulary: “It sounds like you’re angry with Justin for not sharing his toy.” “Did it hurt your feelings when Mary wanted to play with Karen instead of coming home with you?” “It makes you angry when you can’t go outside.” Parents can also model emotional literacy by labeling their own feelings: “I’m worried right now because I can’t find my wallet.”
Helping children distinguish between feelings and actions is another important step in emotional development. In Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman states, “All emotions are, in essence, impulses to act.” It is important to teach children that all of their feelings (impulses) are okay. Let them know that even parents, teachers, and counselors sometimes feel sad, angry, worried, frustrated, scared, annoyed, or nervous.
So what can you do when you’re sad, angry, or worried? Learning how to manage emotions is an important aspect of emotional development, and children learn to manage their emotions by watching significant adults in their life. If they see their parents yell and scream when angry, it is likely that they will yell and scream also. Parents can help their children manage their behavior by helping them to identify acceptable ways to express emotions. “You can’t kick the dog when you’re angry, but you can hit the punching bag, scream into a pillow, run around the block, or hit a tennis ball.”
Helping your child recognize the feelings of others is another essential social skill. Discussing events, stories, and television shows with your child are ways of helping her with this skill: “I wonder how Steve felt when the teacher said that.” “It sounds like Kristen might have been embarrassed.” “Do you think the teacher was frustrated when everyone was talking at once?”
Children develop emotional security and positive social skills in an atmosphere of positive regard with fair and consistent limits and consequences. Noticing your child’s positive behaviors, praising her accomplishments, listening to his accounts of the day, demonstrating patience when she makes a mistake, encouraging his talents and interests, showing consideration for his or her feelings, loving unconditionally – these are ways your child will develop into a secure, loving and resilient individual.
These are ways parents can help:
- Encourage children to identify their emotions.
- Teach alternatives to “acting out.”
- Model appropriate behavior.
- Praise positive behaviors.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for professional help.
Occasionally parents may need to seek professional help for their child. The following questions from When Your Child Needs Help: A Parent’s Guide to Therapy for Children by Norma Doft with Barbara Aria can help you determine when to seek professional help:
- Is my child experiencing prolonged and intense discomfort?
- How long has the problem been going on, and how intense is it?
- Is my child’s problem affecting other areas of his development?
- Is my child’s problem spreading to other areas?
- Is the family affected by the child’s problem?