A three and a half-year-old little girl was the first one to arrive with her grandma at Play Shoppe on Friday at The Parenting Place. We were happy to see her and after her perfunctory greetings, she just stood there – very still – halfway in to the children’s room.
“I feel a little nervous when I first come in. Little girls sometimes feel nervous about painting right away”, she told me.
“I think I know what you mean. Sometimes I feel that way when I go some place. Take your time to decide what to do.”
I saw her eyeing the playdough table and so I reminded her that I remember she usually made that her first stop.
She smiled as she walked forward, noticing immediately there was a new playdough gadget on the table.
I thought about this child’s comments all day. How wonderful for her to be able to recognize and express her emotions as she did.
As adults, parents, grandparents, childcare professionals, however, we often want to avoid having a child feel badly or sad, so in response to this little girl, with all good intentions, we might say “don’t be silly, why would you feel nervous? You come here all the time. There’s nothing to feel nervous about.”
What then would the child hear, however? I’m silly for feeling the way I do. I guess my feelings are wrong. I shouldn’t trust the way I feel.
All of us can find ourselves acting inappropriately when our emotions get the best of us. When a child is experiencing strong emotions, we often see this acted out through their behavior – tantrums, striking out, hiding behind parents, crying, running from us, whining are some of the ways children might respond when they are angry, sad, scared, frustrated, overwhelmed.
Modeling for our children the way in which we handle our own emotions can make a significant impression on them. This is an excellent time to use appropriate emotion words that our children will hear, learn and choose themselves when describing their own feelings.
Reading books together is a perfect opportunity to point out expressions on the characters’ faces which may display clear emotions. “Look at his face. How do you think he’s feeling?” This will help children not only relate to their own feelings but perhaps become more discerning about noticing other’s feelings besides.
Sharing a vocabulary of emotions with our children from an early age is one of the first steps in helping a child use his words versus acting out physically.
Sometimes we get locked in to describing our feelings only as mad, sad, and glad. But offering a variety of words to describe the way we are feeling makes it ever so much more interesting,specific, and fun.
For anger, try annoyed, crabby, cross, fuming, furious, incensed, outraged.
For fear, try afraid, anxious, concerned, nervous, scared, uncomfortable, worried, terrified.
For happiness, try cheerful, delighted, glad, joyful, pleased, satisfied, exuberant.
For sadness, try blue, disappointed, glum, sorry, unhappy, discouraged.
For frustration, try irritated, exasperated, impatient.
Accepting a child’s emotion and helping her to name it and figure out an acceptable solution to manage it will build trust, deeper appreciation and connection between you while steering your child along the path toward emotional maturity and health.
Now that might make us all feel pretty “exultant”! Right?