Emotions are raw and often challenging for adults to interpret and manage. Children do not benefit from having years of experience learning and coping with life's multitude of stressors. For young children, emotions can be confusing, frustrating, and at times destabilizing. Children do not understand that triggers will pass and environments will stabilize; they will learn, but learning must stem from parent-child, child-peer, and internal-external interactions and dialogues.
Teaching Your Child Self-Awareness
Self-awareness is a skill most adults take for granted, believing it to be an innate sense. Self-awareness stems from observation and internal dialogue. It is the ability to review thoughts, emotions, and actions and interpret how they fit into the outside environment and how they stack up against personal values.
The best way to teach your child about self-awareness is through frequent discussions. The conversations should be emotion-driven, containing questions like, "how did that make you feel?" Additionally, the conversation should attempt to assess how an emotional response relates to core values.
Tools To Help Your Child Self-Regulate Their Emotions
When trying to help your child manage their emotions and become self-aware, it can help to use a few tools or strategies to make the process more accessible. For instance, while conversations about feelings are helpful, some children, especially those capable of writing, might find journaling more beneficial.
Journaling provides your child with a safe place to figure out their emotions and process events. Journal entries do not have to be pretty or coherent, as long as they help a child process internal dialogue.
Another option is meditation or mindfulness. Meditation teaches your child to be in the moment. They learn to process sensations and feelings as they occur. Mindfulness is an expansion of meditation, but it focuses on living in the present moment throughout the day and specific activities, such as eating.
Identifying & Communicating Emotions
Helping children identify their emotions gives them power. When a child understands anger or anxiety, they can communicate their emotion and explain what triggered them — knowing what your child is feeling and why can help you guide them to a solution or positive outlet.
Exploring Different Emotions
All feelings or emotions result in different experiences. Once your child can name emotions, it is essential to help them explore them and realize their impermanence. For instance, give your child a sheet of paper and some crayons. Ask them to draw anger, happiness, sadness, etc. After reviewing their images, ask them to identify when they felt that way. Then, ask them what changed their emotion, showing them that all feelings change and evolve.
Processing Emotions as They Come Up
As parents, it can be tempting to let temper tantrums pass by ignoring them. However, if you want to help your child interpret their feelings and make better decisions in the future, you must help them process their feelings as they occur.
For instance, if your child is throwing a tantrum, approach them calmly and ask about the problem. Kneel on their level and speak softly. You do not want to aggravate the situation further, but you want to start a dialogue. Conversations help your child understand their emotions and how they should or can express them.
Still, sometimes it is best to let an emotional event pass before discussing it. Sometimes, a child will not have the patience or wherewithal to discuss events during the outburst.