Emotions --

  • Understanding the Complexity of Emotions


    Most educators and parents understand that children in the elementary years will probably learn about social studies, math, English, science, physical education, art, library sciences, music, and so forth.  Children are taught how to differentiate a subtraction equation from an addition problem.  They are educated about the methods they can use to let the reader know when a sentence has started and when a sentence has ended in their writing.  Youngsters in our school also learn about New York State and various topics related to our nation’s history.  Why?  There are many answers to this simple question.  The information helps students to become knowledgeable and, in many ways, to become more critical thinkers.


    Parents are encouraged to be active partners with the school in the education of their children.  Parents and school staff can further enhance the development of our students by helping each child to understand feelings and his or her emotional life.  During class lessons related to social-emotional education, children express an interest in, and curiosity about, the various emotions.


    Despite curiosity about emotions, many students describe all of their feelings by using the ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘mad’, ‘okay’, ‘nervous’ words.  Having a larger emotional vocabulary may help them to more effectively communicate their feelings to others and may even help them in their process of seeking ways to resolve a situation that makes them uneasy.


    Perhaps a fictional example will help clarify this point.  Mom arrived home on a Saturday afternoon, after leaving her husband and two sons in the house for two hours.  As soon as she walked in the door, her older son, ‘Neil’ ran over to her and said, “I wish I was an only child.  I hate ‘Steven’.”  Neil then abruptly ran to his room and slammed his door.  His mother was left confused.  She only knew that Neil expressed hatred for her younger child.  She did not have much information to go on to help resolve the tension.


    Only later, after Neil had calmed down, did mother and son have a chance to talk.  Neil explained that his father had spent most of the day with Steven, helping him build a bookcase for his room.  Neil had previously worked with his father and had his own bookcase displayed in his room.  His mother questioned, “So why do you hate Steven?”


    Neil paused, and said, “I hate that he took up dad’s time.  I needed Dad to help me, but he kept helping him build a bookcase.”


    If Neil truly hated his brother, then the sibling relationship might be the focus of the resolution plan.  However, as Neil spoke further, and his mother helped him to clarify his feelings of jealousy and resentment (why was Steven getting all of their father’s attention) and rejection (perhaps their father loves Steven more), they were able to more clearly determine how to react in response to these feelings.


    In school, the mental health staff have frequently suggested to students that they use ‘I’ messages when working out conflicts.  This message starts with, “I feel ________ when…”  While some problems can be worked through without anyone talking about their emotions, students can work to be more effective communicators by having the tools to label and express their feelings.


    Tips on how to help children to understand the many ‘emotion words’:

    (1)   Use them yourself in everyday life (e.g., “This morning I had five different people asking me to help them with things at work.  I began to feel overwhelmed until I…”).  This not only models labeling of emotions but also how you respond when feeling particular ways.


    (2)    Make gentle inquiries for more information on how your child feels (e.g., “When you studied hard and got the high grade, did you feel proud? Relieved?  Can you let me know how you felt?”).


    (3)   While watching a television show or reading a book, you may want to play a guessing game, whereby family members try to guess how the character feels and may react.


    (4)   When your child uses a word that you feel may not be precise, you can use the opportunity as a learning moment.  “Joey, you said that you felt sad because John did not call yesterday, as promised.  I wonder, what made you feel sad?”  By Joey giving more information, you may then be able to say, “So, it sounds like you also might have felt ________.  Does that sound right or did I misunderstand?”


    If the dialogues between parent and child are seen as nonthreatening and a sign of affection and attention, then they can be a wonderful way for children to learn about themselves, you, and your lessons.  In addition, you can learn more about them!

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