Understanding Emotions, Grades 5-6

  • Teaching Children To Communicate Their Feelings

                                                                                                      (for grades 5-6)


    As adolescence approaches, your youngsters may begin to experience new, sometimes confusing or complex, feelings. 


    Throughout the upcoming adolescent years, parents try to keep the lines of communication open and to help teenagers to talk with them.    However, if children do not know how to speak about emotions, it may be difficult for them to sometimes express their feelings clearly as they become teenagers.


    As with any skill that we work to develop, some children have an easier time expressing feelings than do others.  Some students communicate their emotions through their behaviors, yet we may not always know the exact message that is being expressed. 


    A pre-teen who is temperamental and begins to withdraw from friends, stating that they are no longer fun to be with, may be:

    (1) expressing feelings of rejection from peers and, rather than continuing to try to fit in, they withdraw;

    (2) noticing that their own interests and those of friends are changing and this confuses and scares them;

    (3) feeling sad or anxious and, thus, withdrawing from others;

    (4) many other emotional reasons can lead to the above behaviors.


    Helping children to find the most accurate ways to verbalize their feelings can decrease the ambiguity that is often involved in behavioral messages.



    Strategies for Building Emotional Vocabulary


    There are many strategies for building emotional insights and vocabulary.  As parents, you may find that one ore more of these suggestions is (are) worth adopting, or you may have your own strategies.


    A few suggestions:

    • some children enjoy keeping a journal or writing letters to parents about their feelings.  Parents and children may even want to write a fictional story together about characters struggling with particular feelings;
    • some children feel anxious or self-conscious when talking directly to a parent about sensitive emotions, thus finding writing or talking while riding in a car (no eye contact) easier.  Others prefer the face-to-face discussions.  Think about what is most comfortable for your own youngster;
    • while watching television, there may be opportunities for parents and children to explore the possible emotions a character has or how the character could most effectively articulate them;
    • after a particular activity, such as a sporting event, a playdate, or a day at school, children may need gentle prompts to tell parents what happened and how they felt.  A few questions might be helpful in opening a discussion, but too many may lead some children to shut down.



    Some Exploratory Questions to Open The Emotion Education Topic


    • “When your teammates told you that you helped the team, how did it make you feel?”
    • “When you weren’t able to hit the ball when you were up at bat today, how did you feel?” If your child reports a negative feeling, you may follow up by asking “Did you tell yourself anything to feel better?”  Some children do not independently think of 'reframing' or ‘positive self-talk’;
    • “When I was on the phone with a friend and couldn’t answer all of your questions, how did it make you feel?”  If the feeling was negative, you could inquire: “What can you do, if I must talk on the phone, to feel better next time?”  You can offer suggestions if your child does not have answers.


    Note:  When it comes to questioning pre-teens, often more questioning is not necessarily better.  However, attention to their comments and reflective responses may help facilitate more in-depth conversations.


    As adolescence approaches, there are many thoughts that trigger emotions.  The thoughts may be hard for some students to express.  For instance:  Why are some students seen as more popular?  What am I supposed to do now that I can’t pass for a cute, little kid?


    These questions are complicated and will generally take time to answer as children become adolescents, and then adults.  However, when these questions are asked to parents by pre-teens, parents might think about the following:


    • Remember to give pre-teens credit for having some insights into difficult topics, even though they may remain confused about them.  Ask about their own views and opinions;
    • As parents, you may want to immediately answer the questions posed by your children.  Answering their questions gives them a feeling of support, but it may deprive them of a chance to explore their own emotions about the topics.  Before answering, it may be helpful to ask them, first, what their thoughts and feelings are on the issue;
    • It may be helpful to remind pre-teens that some situations or topics may foster multiple feelings, some even contradictory.  For instance, a student may be excited, relieved, scared, and guilty about getting the lead in the school play.  Most, if not all of us, have experienced situations that create multiple feelings.  Pre-teens may gain comfort in knowing this;
    • Understanding one’s emotions can open the door to your children either continuing the actions that created the positive emotions or exploring ways to resolve negative feelings;
    • When pre-teens take ownership of their feelings, they may be more motivated to benefit from their insight and knowledge (e.g., “I felt bad when I didn’t do my part in the group project.  I think I better try harder next time”). 


    As children grow into adolescents, they are encouraged to take more independent responsibility for their actions.  You, as parents, can help them to understand when they can find a solution or answer by themselves and when their feelings are so powerful, or the situation is so stressful, that they need support from others. 


    If your child feels depressed (e.g., crying, low self-esteem, increased moodiness; sleep changes; appetite changes; withdrawal from activities or others; talks of harming self), or overwhelmed by other equally powerful feelings (e.g., anxiety; anger; guilt), then seeking the guidance of a mental health professional would be recommended.