Let’s talk about feelings! In one way or another more often than not, a common problem that brings a child or teen into the therapy room is their lack of awareness of how to manage their own emotions. For young children, this can result in unpleasant behaviors for both the child and the caregiver. For teens, this can result in issues related to self-esteem, social issues, or in extreme cases even self-harm behaviors. Understanding our emotions can be tricky, however when I work with younger clients, my goal is to not only support the child or teen, but also the caregiver so learning and integration becomes a team effort.emotional intelligence
If you have been listening to the news or reading articles lately on social media, you have probably heard the words ‘emotional intelligence.’ So, what exactly is emotional intelligence? According to Psychology Today, “Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills: emotional awareness; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people.” This definition may sound intense and overwhelming, however fostering emotional intelligence in your child or teen is easier than you may think!
Here are important ways to help your child or teen strengthen their emotional intelligence:
1. Learn how to label emotions- Whether you are reading a book, watching TV, or playing a game, use natural ways to practice labeling emotions. I always recommend focusing on the person’s face first. Are they smiling or frowning? Are they crying or screaming? Are their eyes open wide or is their face red? Focusing on a person’s face helps children and teens learn how to label emotions for themselves and others more effectively
2. Talk about emotions- Once your child or teen has a basic understanding of emotions, talk about them! Yes, even the more difficult and intense ones. It might be easier to ignore difficult emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, and embarrassment, however the more we ignore them the worse they can feel. Caregivers: Do not forget to talk about your emotions as well! Children and teens need models, and as their caregivers, modeling can go a long way!
3. Accept and validate emotions- Yes, you read that correctly. Accepting and validating your child’s or teen’s emotions does not excuse inappropriate behavior, however it does support them to understand that all emotions are ok and are needed in order to have a healthy life. If your instinct is to punish emotions, try labeling and validating them first.
4. Include the body- After you or your child or teen is able to label their emotion(s), try and figure out where that emotion is in their body. Some describe anger as feeling as though there is a volcano in their chest. Others talk about excitement as butterflies in their stomach. Including the body in the conversation strengthens the understanding of emotions.
5. Connect, connect, connect- Using emotions as a vehicle to connect with others is a powerful tool we all can have the ability to use. There are always messages lying within emotions. For children and teens, more often than not, at least one message is, “I need help and connection.” Hugs, snuggles, and physical presence shows and tells your child or teen that they do not have to handle their big emotions alone. It also reinforces for them that as their caregiver, you love them no matter what they are feeling in the moment.
If you find yourself thinking, “Ok, so we learn and practice labeling and validating emotions. But what do we do to feel better?” Do not fret, those tips are coming in Part 2. Emotions can feel very overwhelming for children and teens due to their age and not having a fully developed brain. The more they practice the above tips, the stronger their emotional intelligence becomes!
Here are some great resources on emotions:
F is For Feelings – Goldie Millar
The Way I Feel – Janan Cain
Understanding Myself: A Kid’s Guide to Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings – Mary C. Lamia, Ph.D.
Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens – Sheri Van Dijk, MSW
Inside Out – Disney Pixar animated film
Written by Candace Hanson, MA, LMFT
Psychology Today. Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/emotional-intelligence
Photo credit: pexels.com