Helping children identify and manage their emotions helps creatie emotional strength

Identifying and Reflecting Feelings
Children are born with feelings and emotions which they express from the time of birth.  What they are not born with is the vocabulary to name them.  Emotions can be confusing and very strong and eventually children figure out what they are and where they come from.  However, one of the tricks in raising a child with strong self esteem is providing them with the tools to be self assured, self reliant and confident.  Learning at an early age to manage our emotions is an effective way to build independence and confidence. Creating emotional strength is also advantageous in teaching empathy and building positive social skills. 
Social skills that help our children:
·         Play with others in a confident productive way

·         Feel comfortable in their skin and environment

·         Share and cooperate with other children and adults

·         Manage emotions and regulate feelings

·         Demonstrate caring and empathy towards others

Early in their child’s life parents may start to see an array of feelings cropping up in their offspring.  Sometimes this takes the form of temper tantrums, crying fits… some sort of frustration; or the polar opposite such as pleasure, curiosity, or excitement (which may seem like hyperactivity).

Regardless of what form the emotions take it is important to see that behavior is often fueled by feelings... strong feelings that make no sense to a child in the beginning.  Helping your child label and identify their feelings is the first step in helping them manage their emotions for a life time.  Another important effect of labeling feelings is that it helps your child feel heard and understood... it creates emotional strength. 

All feelings are valid


A little boy is mad at his sister because she accidently knocked down some toys that he had spent a good deal of time putting into place, maybe a city or race course, something that he had worked hard on and made him feel proud.

The little boy reacts by crying, yelling and carrying on. The parent hears the commotion and comes out to see what is amiss….

This situation can go in a variety of different ways

Scenario 1 :

The parent tries to clear up the confusion by getting to what happened, but the little boy is just beside himself with anger.  Parent says stop that screaming or I will send you to your room.  The little boy tries to explain what happened but his emotions are getting the best of him and he is not able to manage them.  The parent tells him to “calm down” ….but the child does not know how. 
The situation escalates and everybody gets sent to their rooms having learned nothing from the situation except perhaps yelling gets me in trouble…but there was no alternative offered, no guidance on how to get past what was seen as a complete tragedy from the child’s point of view. After all he had spent a good part of his day and his creative energy building this play world in his head and it was destroyed in under a minute by little sister, who had no idea that it was going to result in this drama; it may have even been an accident.

Scenario 2

The parent tries to clear up the confusion by getting to what happened, but the little boy is just beside himself with anger.  The boy is visibly upset and angry.  This is a perfect opportunity for the parent to reflect the child’s feelings, giving them validation and making the child feel heard and understood.  At the same time the parent helps the child label the feeling, identify it and put him on the path to helping him manage those feelings now and in the future. 

Little boy- screaming and carrying on
  • Expressing strong emotion through behavior
Parent- "You seem angry and upset, what happened?"
  • Encourage the child to talk about the feelings and also identify the feelings of anger and disappointment.  Notice the parent is not judging the child as good or bad, just reflecting the feeling.
Little boy- points at sister “She mean she ruined everything!"
  • Expressing more emotion….can you identify it?
Parent- “You seem angry with your sister because she knocked down what you had been working so hard on.  You put a lot of time and effort into that and you seem disappointed and frustrated. I might feel the same way if that had happened to me.”
  • Here the parent validated the child and labeled his feelings (anger, frustration, disappointment). The parent did not tell the child how they he was feeling (you seem); the parent simply reflected what the child seemed to be feeling under those conditions.  The parent did not scold or tell the child that there was anything wrong with the feelings…just simply acknowledged them.
  • The parent is also modeling caring and empathy here.  The parent is listening to the child and that results in the child feeling heard and validated.  After all, the little boy spent a lot of time working on his creative master piece he has the right to feel sorrow and disappointment.

What happens from here can vary, the child could continue on for a little bit, but eventually, usually sooner than later, the child will respond with something like this:

Little boy- “Yes I am angry and I spent a lot of time working on that and she ruined it.”

A little more validation and reflecting and things should move on without much more incident…
What happened here?  
  • The child is not sent to his room
  • He has felt heard
  • He has learned that his emotions are not going to get him in trouble
  • He has learned how to go about handling his emotions
  • He has learned that his feelings do matter no matter what
  • He has learned how to label and talk about those feelings in a constructive way
We would say that a little switch in the parents approach as taught this child a lot!


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