Emotion Education, grades 2-4
Teaching Children To Communicate Their Feelings And To Understand The Feelings of Others
When children begin to verbalize their needs, parents often find them to be less frustrated, since they are better able to communicate their desires and have these desires met. Asking for “juice” as a young child, or asking for emotional support as an older child, are important forms of self-advocacy and communication.
Dr. Adam Cox stated that, “Without a working vocabulary, we are limited in our capacity both to express and to comprehend emotional states,” (Boys of Few Words: Raising Our Sons To Communicate & Connect, p. 84). Some children actually have a wonderful ability to interpret and express emotions nonverbally, but there are benefits to having the emotional vocabulary as well.
Students in grades two, three, and four are generally familiar with feeling “sad,” “mad,” and “happy.” However, not all situations that they will encounter will elicit these specific emotional states.
As parents, if you know what is bothering your children, it may be easier to decide how to respond. For instance, if a child appears to hate spelling tests, is it that the tests create:
(1) anxiety regarding possible failure?
(2) a sense of potential social rejection by a peer who always does well on such tests?
(3) anger at having to complete the particular task?
(4) or numerous other responses?
There are some ways that parents can help broaden the vocabulary children have regarding emotions:
- model the use of specific words for them when you are feeling particular emotions;
- gently let them know if you are ever unsure about what they are feeling. You can ask them if they can describe their thinking and feelings. Then you may be able to restate their comments and summarize by noting that, “I wonder if you are feeling _______?” This way, you do not assume their emotional state, but begin to make them aware of the vocabulary of emotions;
- when reading a book with your children, you may want to periodically pause and let them know what you believe the main characters might be feeling, and ask for their opinion;
- offer positive feedback when your children use effective words to communicate their feelings.
What Do Others Feel?
Once children begin to develop a strong emotion vocabulary, they may be better able to understand their peers who also use such words to express themselves.
Whether a person is a child or an adult, others often appreciate it when a friend validates their feelings. Therefore, step one may be to develop and understand the vocabulary of emotions, while step two might be to understand how to respond when such emotions arise in themselves and in others.
What Do I Do With These Feelings?
It takes a long time for most of us to be able to identify, articulate, and then respond adaptively to our own feelings.
Children may benefit from understanding that:
- being able to identify emotions is a great first step, even if they do not know what to do to respond to them;
- children sometimes fear being ridiculed or embarrassed if they verbalize their internal thoughts or feelings. Parents can encourage their youngsters to express themselves, in an appropriate time/place/manner, without fear of ridicule, and that they will help them to figure out what to do next;
- Since young students are still broadening their vocabulary in many areas (e.g., science; music; emotions), they have many areas of growth that occur simultaneously. Therefore, they may periodically need reminders that the work of growing up is exciting, but that they should let you know if parts of their daily experiences leave them feeling overwhelmed;
- When you, as parents, use particular words to communicate emotions, it may be helpful for you to take a moment to clarify what you mean, so that your children can gain more knowledge about the word and when they might want to use it themselves.
Even though children may be able to clearly identify their emotions and clearly articulate them, it is often disappointing to them to learn that the problem is not immediately resolved just by reporting feelings to others.
Coping strategies are additional lessons that help children to problem solve. If children do not articulate their concerns or feelings, it is harder for those around them to be supportive in finding a way to support them in finding adaptive ways to cope and/or to respond to the particular situation.
Within the home, problem-solving and conflict resolution skills can often be modeled when siblings argue or parents have a mild disagreement (e.g., “Do we make a right or left turn at the next light?”). The home can be a practicing ground for verbalizing feelings and looking for resolutions.
Problem-solving techniques and ways a child can calm him or herself in order to use the coping strategies are important skills for your children to learn. However, having the language to communicate feelings is a powerful tool to start the process.