For kids it’s all about feelings
Noticed how four year olds can have a melt down in a few seconds? Children’s feelings can range from being totally happy the one moment, to tears of frustration and utter despair the next. Sometimes our kids seem impossible to understand! This is because for children, less is said in words, and more is said through behaviour (i.e. body language). So to really understand them, we need to look at what their bodies are telling us about their feelings.
Children experience feelings with intensity, quickly and honestly, showing us their inner world via behaviour, without judgment or perspective. When too many feelings build up inside for them, the feelings explode as “bad” behaviours like anger outbursts, tantrums and meltdowns. It helps to realize that we can’t expect youngsters to easily know and tell us how they are feeling and what they need. Remember that children live in a feelings world, whereas as adults we tend to ‘live’ in our heads – ruled by logic and reasoning.
An easy way to grasp how children experience feelings is to think of feelings building up like waves until they peak and crash. By encouraging our kids to experience each feeling fully, like a wave, it can dissolve. As soon as they let out their feelings, children settle down, and instantly become calmer and happier (like a wave that has crashed to shore).
Important to remember:
Feelings aren’t right or wrong – it’s what we do with them that is important (e.g. “you can be furious with your brother, but you can’t hit him”).
Avoid trying to change their feeling – we often deny, ignore or dismiss children’s feelings by implying that their feelings are less important, or wrong, or telling them that they don’t feel a certain way. All feelings are allowed.
Actively help them let go of their feelings – so that they can feel settled again (e.g. “how can we get this feeling out so that you can feel calm again? Shall we blow it out, or punch a pillow?”)
Watch out for overreacting – our kids co-operate best when we’re respectful of them and of their feelings. When we’re out of control emotionally they’re less likely to behave and learn that they can overreact too.
Be honest about your own feelings – kids learn everything about how to understand, express and let out feelings by the way that we manage our own feelings. It’s important to honestly say how you’re feeling, especially when their behaviour is affecting you.
When we as parents purposefully help our children to fully feel and let go of their feelings in easy and healthy ways, we give them a real opportunity to understand themselves. From this honest place (where all feelings are allowed and welcomed), children naturally change their own behaviour for the better, without having to resort to threats, bribes or manipulation. For an easy-to-use guide to transforming your parenting click here to buy Carol’s ParentMagic – raising kids positively book (2016)