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  • Writer's pictureP.E.T. South Africa

How to help your child identify and express emotions

A child's brain is in a constant state of development that affects all areas of growth. Some of these areas include language, motor (physical), cognitive, social and emotional development. While many parents are especially attuned to the physical and intellectual development of their child, the things parents see, it is often the child's emotional development, the things parents hear, that are overlooked.

Many parents are unaware of the vital role they play in the emotional development of their child. Parents can be so focussed on every other developmental aspect that they often, unintentionally, forget about emotional health.

Negative emotions that remain suppressed during childhood can have problematic outcomes in later years. Today, more parents are educating themselves on ways to raise an emotionally healthy child. Below are four helpful tips to keep in mind.

Respond effectively to your child's emotions

Be supportive, caring and nurturing. The way you physically interact with your child is crucial, as in most cases they have yet to learn how to talk about the emotion they are experiencing. Pick your child up, bend down, and look your child in the eye when he or she is sobbing uncontrollably. Describe the behaviour to the child - what you are seeing and what you are hearing. By doing this, you are teaching a child to identify an emotion which is the first step to effective regulation.

Think of your child's behaviour, the emotions being expressed, as a way for the child to get a need met. Your child's intention is not to cause you any harm or embarrassment but rather a cry for help on how to regulate.

"An infant cries because she is hungry or cold, or in pain. Something is wrong; her organism needs something. Crying behavior is the baby’s way of saying, “Help.” Such behavior, in fact, should be viewed as quite appropriate (“good”), for the crying is apt to bring the child the help that is needed. When you view the child as a creature that is doing something appropriate to get its needs met, you can’t really call it misbehaving." - Dr Thomas Gordon

Share experience on how to manage negative emotions

As your child grows, the situations they are exposed to will change and their emotional lives will become more complex. Naturally, like any person adapting to change, your child will become vulnerable to fear, frustration, and anxiety. Being the adult in the relationship and having gone through the same thing many years ago, you have a vital role to play in helping your child adapt to change. Prepare them for the emotions, teach them how to identify them, and most importantly be the safe space they can confide in without fear of embarrassment or judgement.

Teach your child to release negative energy in a healthy manner

When a child experiences a negative emotion for the first or perhaps the umpteenth time, it is a parent's responsibility to teach that child practical ways to deal with that emotion. For example, “You sound frustrated with your computer game. Count to three, take a few deep breaths, and try again.”

The emotion might be more intense for a simple "let's breathe"; in these situations teach your child to physically remove themselves from the situation, to move on to another non-aggressive activity, and return only once they feel emotionally balanced.

An important thing to remember when teaching a child how to regulate emotions is that you set the example. Don't be a hypocrite.

Teaching your child not to slam the computer keyboard while playing games, but then shouting and slamming your own steering wheel while driving could send confusing messages.

Support your child by not taking ownership of their problems

Parents are quick to jump in and solve their child's problem; sometimes even before the child becomes aware of one. You are essentially robbing your child of a crucial learning experience.

If your child never gets to experience negative emotions, your child will never learn how to regulate these emotions on their own, which could lead to dependency later in life.

Healthy emotional development involves learning, understanding, recognising, and dealing with one's own emotions and those of others. Children who are taught to identify, express, and handle their emotions in a healthy manner develop rewarding life skills.

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Disclaimer: The information contained in this communication is not to be construed as medical advice. Consult a professional on any medical or psychological concerns. The articles and blogs are posted only as opinion or ideas, and are general in nature. The administrator takes no responsibility for any action or outcome a reader may make as a result of reading a post.

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