Our feelings, happy or sad, angry or calm, are part of our lives, affecting us and those around us, so being able to openly talk about them is a good habit to get into from a young age.
It’s never too early
Children experience emotions from a young age, even as infants – they feel happy when they are loved and held by a parent, or maybe fear when their parent is gone for a period of time. So, don’t wait until the onset of very emotional tantrums before you start talking to them about how they feel. Of course, we know it’s important to talk to our babies and small children to encourage language skills even if they don’t fully understand the content! Start straight away to talk about their emotions, and gradually they will be familiar with the words you use, and that it is ‘ok’ to talk about how we feel – whether it’s a good feeling or a bad one.
Kids learn by copying their parents, so when you are at home talk openly about emotions, with your children and husband or wife. Try to make it as much a part of your child’s daily routine as eating breakfast or a bedtime story.
Throughout your day, name and acknowledge the emotions you are feeling as well as how your child is feeling. Use simple words or phrases like “I know you are feeling angry that we need to leave now” or “I’m feeling sad because it’s been raining all day.” Remember to let them know that it is normal to feel different emotions in different situations. As a parent, your aim is to make emotions part and parcel of everyday life and something that is regularly discussed.
Show and tell
Children will learn from your actions and experiences, so use that to your advantage. When it comes to talking to kids about emotions, think about what you do to de-stress or stay calm and, where appropriate, do a bit of ‘show and tell’.
For example, if yoga helps your mental health, get your child involved. Try some basic yoga moves with them or if they are still an infant, hold them close as you do a session. Skin-to-skin contact helps the youngest children regulate heart rate and breathing so as you begin to de-stress, so will they.
Encourage them to use their imagination to ‘picture’ the scene. Or if talking to your friends or getting exercise helps you deal with difficult emotions, give these as examples.
Make the most of the moment
As parents, we don’t necessarily need to set aside specific times, although it’s good to be intentional at times, but just include the language in our everyday conversations over breakfast or dinner, in the car or at bedtime.