Fact: Kids are highly emotionally attuned.
They feel their feelings, they recognize their feelings, and usually they aren’t afraid to have them. In fact, we could all learn a thing or two from them.
But where they definitely need help from caregivers is understanding what to do next. I’ve been a mom for 11 years, and an emotional health professional for 6, and here are a few tips I return to all the time with my children:
1. Understand and learn to pay attention to your own emotions
Kids can’t feel safe to talk about their emotions unless you do. You’re the emotional baseline for the home. They will gauge their emotional reactivity and emotional set points by watching yours.
2. Give them language for how they feel
So often kids don’t know how to explain or express how they are feeling. They can feel it in their bodies, but they don’t always know how to express it. Try asking questions: Are you angry? Are you sad? Do you need some help getting your feelings out? Some kids want to talk about it, and some kids just need to move. We offer for our kids to stomp their feet, or write it out, or take some space/deep breaths. Sometimes once you offer a foundation, then the next steps are easier.
3. Help them feel safe with their emotions
Culturally, we demonize a lot of emotions. Anger, despair, resentment, shame, guilt. Remind them that no emotions are bad. Emotions are just ways our bodies are trying to communicate with us about what we need. Anger tells us our boundaries have been violated. Frustration tells us we are feeling stuck. Despair tells us we are feeling hopeless and lonely. In each and every one of those cases, what we need is support, understanding, and encouragement; not to be afraid of what those feelings mean.
4. Feelings are the language of the body
Emotions are a bottom up experience. We feel them in our bodies and then our brain tries to make sense of them. Because of this, using our bodies in the experience is really important. When you’re feeling sad, or lonely, or anxious, try putting your hand on your chest and saying, “I’m okay.” When you are feeling surprised, or scared, or unanchored, try going outside and putting your feet on the grass to ground yourself. When you are feeling joy, or excitement, or delight, let yourself laugh and smile and feel that course through your system.
5. Emotions move quick
Amazing research has been done on the body and brain and how our bodies experience emotions. Unless we attach a story to what we are feeling, an emotion only lasts in our body for 90 seconds*. It’s a quick chemical process that our bodies use to communicate with the brain. I love to share this fact with my kids and we make a plan for those 90 seconds. We sit still and breathe. Or we say statements like, “I can do anything for 90 seconds!” Or with my little one sometimes I make it a game and I’ll help him visualize it moving out of his body: “Here it goes it’s coming up from your toes! I can see it moving up to your belly, now it’s at your chest. I can see some of it moving down your arms and wriggling out of your fingers. Oh the last little bit is whooshing right up your neck and out the top of your head!” It becomes a silly fun way to transmute the energy when things feel heavy and hard and we all find a way to laugh and have fun.