“Don’t cry”, “Big babies are strong” or “You have to be strong” are very common expressions used by adults to alleviate the suffering and dissatisfaction of children. While they may work with some children in the short term, in the long run they can lead many others not to express their emotions, causing serious consequences for their psychological and social development. Children need to express their emotions.
Ignoring or denying children’s emotions is dangerous behavior. It would be best to avoid this if we want their emotional health and relationships to develop in a positive way. The fact that they are small does not have to lead them to think that their thoughts and emotions are not important. Indeed, it is the exact opposite.
In fact, their world is just as important as ours, just like their perceptions and feelings, which we should support so that they can get to know each other little by little. We invite you to discover how to teach children to understand and externalize their emotions.
The danger of repressing children’s emotions
Anger, sadness, or rage in children are natural responses that can arise in a number of ways: from a misunderstanding of what is happening to the frustration of not getting what they wanted or from a simple whim. In one way or another, all of these emotions carry a message – beyond the malaise – that needs to be understood or released.
If instead of interpreting the tears, screams or discomfort of our children as signals to deepen what is happening to them, we persist in rejecting their emotions or even not giving them importance, we will increase their discomfort. In this way we will also reject their identity, demanding a behavior – ideal for us – based on fear and the denial of their emotions.
If we repress our children’s emotions, they will become adults unable to manage their emotional language, either with themselves or with others, thereby limiting their well-being. Even the development of emotional intelligence will be hindered because, as Daniel Goleman states, the knowledge of oneself and one’s feelings is the cornerstone: the basis on which personal growth is founded.
The emotional release in children
We are not very used to teaching children to identify, express and externalize their emotions, especially those considered negative, such as anger, rage or sadness. Indeed, we think that if they express these emotions they are rude, rude or aggressive. However, if we don’t teach them to relate to their emotional world, they will never get to know themselves or even manage their emotions.
So, if we want to raise emotionally intelligent children, and thus contribute to their emotional health, we must allow them to externalize their emotions. Otherwise, the malaise will invade them slowly until it presents itself in other ways, making them prisoners of their emotions.
Pouting or feeling sad relieves, heals, and helps understanding. If children learn to express their emotions from an early age, they will become emotionally healthy adults. Investing in the emotional education of the little ones means investing in the future of adults, let’s not forget that.
How to help children to express their emotions?
There are many ways to get babies to say how they feel and channel their negative emotions, from crying to the process of identifying their feelings.
What matters is to be aware of the fact that it is a need for them, so we cannot respond in a restless, critical, impulsive or threatening way. If we do not support them in a situation of malaise, it will be difficult for them to take this responsibility, especially during the first years of life. Thus, a child needs a peaceful environment around him and not people who feed his anger.
Our behavior towards children must be characterized by affection, understanding and empathy to help them understand how they feel, what are the causes that have produced those feelings and what they can do to express their emotions. In this way we will gradually stimulate their ability to regularize their emotions.
When children are angry or when emotions get the better of them, we don’t have to try to make them reason immediately. We can invite them to share how they feel to relieve the discomfort, but usually waiting a few minutes will help restore calm.
From that moment the dialogue will be much more fluid and we can encourage them to express everything they think and need to calm down. In addition, it is important to make them understand that, when they express themselves, they have the opportunity to think better and act more appropriately. The rule that must be followed will be that of not offending or hurting others.
The traffic light technique
A widely used technique for children to learn to manage and express their emotions is that of the traffic light. The goal is to make children associate the colors of a traffic light with their emotions and their behavior. We can draw a traffic light and explain to them that:
- Red. This color should be associated with the act of stopping. So, whenever they feel angry, get nervous or start screaming and despair, they should remember that the red light goes on, so they have to stop. It is as if they were drivers in front of a red light. The message we need to convey to him is: Stop! Calm down and think.
- Yellow color. This color signals the moment to stop and think to understand what the problem is and the emotion felt. We can tell them that when the light turns yellow, the drivers stop, think, look for solutions and get ready to leave. In this case we should say to him: Think about solutions and their consequences.
- Green colour. This color tells us to continue, in other words, to choose the best solution and put it into practice. The message that can help them in these cases might be: Go ahead and put your best solution into practice.
Another technique that generally works for children to express their discomfort is to ask them to draw their anger and then say everything they need to and, finally, express the discomfort (a symbolic way of closing the matter, afterwards. having heard your message). They can also count to 10, move away, or take a deep breath. Later, we will be able to reflect with them on the causes that led them to feel this way, how they can channel them and what ways there are to resolve what happened. This process will help increase one’s awareness, management and emotional responsibility.
As we have seen, children can express and externalize their negative emotions, but most of the time, they don’t know how to do it. The important thing is to help them express them also thanks to an emotional and positive education, based on understanding and affection.