Helping Our Kids to Identify Their Feelings:
One of the things I appreciate most about Laura’s blog is the honesty she demonstrates in discussing the difficulties of applying her professional body of knowledge to real life situations that affect her children. As a psychotherapist, I can very much relate with that struggle.
As parents, I find that it’s important to help our children to put their feelings into words and to understand and identify their feelings during any given situation. The world can be an overwhelming place for children. Honestly, it can be overwhelming for adults too. Yet children, unlike adults, are challenged with a limited frame of reference, making it particularly difficult for them to govern their present experiences by past ones.
Children need adults as teachers to help them narrate life, especially early on, so that they can learn to identify their emotions. By helping them to do this, we can hope to gain a better understanding of what they are feeling.
Earlier this week, for example, my daughter Rachel expressed that she had a great time during a play date with a new friend. As we were leaving, however, she started to act out, putting her shoes on and kicking them off, which she did about three times. Then she relaxed all the muscles in her foot so we couldn’t get her shoe on at all. And then her sock came off. She was laughing the entire time this was happening, while I was most definitely not.
It felt to me like Rachel was intentionally making it impossible for us to leave, so I said to her, “Boy, someone had so much fun they don’t want to leave and go home!” And with that, like Cinderella, I was magically able to slip her sock and shoe on. Rachel grabbed her backpack and said goodbye to her friend without creating a fuss. As I saw it, once she understood what she was feeling, she no longer needed to act it out.
Something else I try to do is to let Rachel know what I’m feeling internally when I’m having a rough day or losing my footing. When she tests my patience or disregards what I am saying, I verbalize my frustration and express my waning tolerance.
I also do my best to explain to her why I say the things I say (I was feeling tired) and apologize if it’s appropriate. As Harry Stack Sullivan wrote, “We are all much more simply human than otherwise,” and I think it’s more than okay to let our kids see that too.
A great resource for helping children identify their feelings is “The Way I feel Books,” by Cornelia Maude Spellman. In it, Cornelia writes about anger, sadness and jealousy in a way that makes it easy for children to understand and relate to.