Children experience a wide range of feelings just like adults. However, unlike adults, they often cannot articulate or identify them so they often only express a much narrower range. Anger can actually be camouflaged embarrassment and excitement can really be nervousness. You may think that you need a decoder ring to figure out what your children are really feeling underneath, but you have the answer right at your finger tips. You can use yourself and your own feelings as a barometer of what your children are feeling and why they are behaving the way they are.
Children have an uncanny ability to transfer their feelings to another individual – even if those feelings are ones that they cannot express or recognize themselves. For example, if you are feeling overwhelmed with your child’s behavior, it is quite possible that he is feeling overwhelmed by something himself. He may just not know it. Using your feelings to help your children understand and express their own can take some practice. You can use the following steps as a general guide.
1. Make sure your feelings don’t stem from something else. If you are feeling frustrated with your child, take a moment to self-asses. Ask yourself, “Am I frustrated for any other reason?” “Am I still reacting to the fact that the bank lost my check?” You want to make sure your own feelings are not clouding your interpretation of your child’s.
2. Correctly identify the feeling you are having. Take a moment to identify the feeling you are having. Is it really anger or is it something more complex (it usually is). You want to make sure you have a good handle on your feelings so that you can help your child with his.
3. Explore with your child. You may not always be accurate in your assessment, no matter how careful you are. This is where it will be helpful to explore with your child. You can use language like: “It seems like . . .” or “I might be wrong, but . . .” This tentative way of exploration gives your child permission to disagree. You do want to gently nudge towards an identification of the right feeling, however. To that end, you can say something like, “You are acting very angry right now, but I am wondering if you are really more overwhelmed with all that is going on.” You can then speculate about the events in his or her life that may be contributing to such a feeling.
4. Employ a feelings chart. A feelings chart like this one can be really helpful in educating children about the wide range of feelings. The overly dramatized faces help children to more easily distinguish between the different feeling states. You may find it to be a helpful tool in working with your children on this issue.
Using your own feelings to explore your child’s has benefits. Once identified, you will likely see a softening in your child. Feelings are very powerful. Unidentified feelings can be scary. Helping your child to navigate through this unfamiliar territory will build skills that he or she will use for a long time to come.