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Let’s talk about feelings

22 October 2018

Feelings are complicated and for this reason it is difficult to comprehend and express them appropriately, especially when we are quite young. It is an abstract concept that cannot always be distinguished as they are very subjective in the way they are experienced and expressed by each one of us.

However, the sooner we introduce children to the entire palette of feelings the easier it is for them to gradually learn to identify, express and eventually manage them appropriately. Studies have shown that children who started to understand the range of their feelings from a young age are less likely to be aggressive, have temper tantrums or defiance, as they are the feelings that affect our reactions.

Emotional regulation is about teaching children identify their emotions, understanding the implications of how these feelings are expressed and, finally, developing their problem-solving ability, either by coping with the feelings or by finding effective ways to cope with the situation. Gottman and Siegel's studies on emotional intelligence have shown that children who learn to speak and express their feelings are more capable of adopting strategies to eliminate those stimuli that are annoying to themselves.

Emotional intelligence is important as it shows that the child is aware of all the different feelings he might be experiencing and at the same time he knows how to express them in a socially acceptable manner. It is highlighted then that the important thing when teaching a child about his emotions is not how to supress them but how to react to them appropriately.  

These are some ways to help you introduce your children into the world of feelings in order to learn how to talk and express them in their everyday life:

• Teach children feeling words introducing more complex feelings as the child grows up. Use books, movies and real life situations to help children understand the emotion and at the same time build their empathy by showing how other people can have the same feeling as they do.
• Play games about different feelings using toy figures in order to enhance children’s problem solving ability.
• Teach children how to deal with their feelings by helping them find strategies to respond and express their feelings in a way that will not be harmful for them or others. Let your children think of their own solutions and discuss openly about how all feelings are accepted but there are positive and negative ways to express them. 
• Enhance the positive expression of emotions. Encourage children in their efforts to talk about their feelings or when they express them using a good strategy. It is important to help children understand that it is always acceptable to talk about any emotion they are feeling, but it is the way they choose to show their feelings and respond to them what needs to be managed properly.
• Become a real life model of emotions. Share openly your emotions with your children and remember to express them using a problem solving strategy in order to show how you are going to deal with the feeling you are experiencing in an appropriate manner. 
• Create a list of “easy access alternatives” in order to deal with difficult emotions. Some of them could be: Ask for help, Solve problems with words, Say it, don’t do it, Tell a grown-up, Take a deep breath, Describe what you are feeling, Think of a different way to do it, Relax and try again, Walk away, Ask for a hug.
• Don’t forget to embrace children’s feelings by acknowledging them and never underestimate the impact they may have on them. It is important to help them know that we are there to support them understand and expresstheir emotions in the best way possible. 

And remember what the “Inside Out” movie taught us: “It is ok to feel all the emotions, it is how we deal with them that makes us the people we are”.

Best wishes,

Marilou Kountria

Psychologist – Play Therapist

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