As children, many of us are taught to suppress our feelings “Be quiet and dry up your tears, it’s not a big deal”. It was preferred if kids were seen and not heard.
Denying a child the chance to express themselves sends them a very loud message that their feelings are not worthy. The child will translate this to mean that they are not worthy and this results in a whole new set of problems.
There are a number of things we can do as parents to encourage the right amount of self expression. Note that too much expression and your child will start to feel the whole world revolves around them and their problems. It’s important to strike a balance.
1. Respond to Their Cues
When your children are very small and vulnerable the best approach to take is to respond when they call you. Many people of older generations believe you can spoil a baby when in fact there is no such thing. Your baby will learn that you are listening to them from a very young age if you learn to read the cues they send out and respond as soon as you can. Babies who are kept to a tight schedule and are left to cry may fall into line and not cause many problems, or alternatively they may react badly and become difficult. Either way there is every possibility that they might have problems later on as they have not been listened to.
2. Tune Into Your Toddler’s Needs
Toddlers are often misunderstood and will then go on to have big tantrums that can be hard to bear. Try to stay calm during the tantrum – laugh it off. It’s just a normal phase and it’s good to know that your child feels safe enough to express themselves. If you don’t understand what your toddler is trying to tell you – have a look at their eyes. A toddlers eyes will express more than you realize and will be a major clue as to what is going on in their mind.
3. Talk About Your Own Feelings
Be a good role model and show your child how to express their feelings. Use words they will understand and tell them what you mean when you introduce a ‘feeling’ word. You could say ” I feel so sad that Daddy’s gone away for a few days – I miss him” or “I feel angry that nobody helps with the housework – I’m tired of doing it all by myself”. Now they know what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. This is an excellent learning opportunity for them.
4. Help Them to Label Their Feelings
When your kids get frustrated or angry it’s a good time to get in there and try your best to label their feelings for them. You could even play a game of labelling expressions. You can buy these games on Amazon for a few dollars – they are a great fun way to teach expressions and feelings to kids. Then they can recognise feelings in themselves and others, thereby encouraging empathy skills.
5. Avoid Suppressing Their Feelings
This is so important. The last thing we want to do is to send the message that we don’t care about their feelings. So try to avoid saying things like ” Stop that whining, there’s always something wrong with you” or ” Don’t you dare lose your temper with me young man”. This will only result in the child forming a belief that they are not worthy of attention. This will lead to a low self esteem and a whole plethora of problems.
6. Don’t Over Do it
We want balanced, well adjusted children. We don’t want to encourage our children to only express their feelings without regard for the needs of others. Try to address their issue constructively – giving them time to explain their point of view and allowing them to cry for a reasonable amount of time (if that’s what they need). Then, close the subject – there’s no need to allow it to escalate or linger for longer than a few minutes. (Unless there has been some kind of trauma experienced).
7. Be Approachable
Your little one’s need to know you’re there for them. Show them that you are available using your words and also your body language. Face them, get down to their level, don’t sit defensively with your arms and legs crossed – be open to whatever it is they have to say. Try not to mumble back absentmindedly when they ask you something. Stay present – in the moment with them, responding to every turn in the conversation.
8. Try Empathic Listening
Empathic listening is all about helping someone to see that you understand them and you’ve heard them. ” I see you look sad, can you tell me why” or “Jake pushed you on the back, how do you feel about that” . You’re letting them know that you are tuning into their problem and their needs. It’s so much more helpful to a child to be listened to in this way than to be yelled at or to be told “we’ll talk about it later”.
9. Show Them How To Ask For Help
It’s so important that we all learn how to ask for help in life. Show your children how it’s done. Demonstrate, with the help of another adult, how you can ask for help nicely. Your children learn from your actions and not so much from your advice.
10. Reinforce When They Get it Right
When you catch your child expressing themselves in an appropriate manner, reinforce this with lots of praise. When your child is praised they are more likely to repeat that action.
11. Alternate Ways to Express Anger
It’s okay to feel angry but not to take it out on other people. Help your kids, especially teenagers, to express that anger through exercise – running, martial arts, swimming and so on. These are all positive ways for us all to express anger.
It takes pracitse and determination to be a good facilitator in your child’s ability to express their feelings appropriately. Stick with it by being a positive role model and stay calm and positive as much as you possibly can. This will pay off ten fold in the long term.