Let’s Talk about it: The Language of Feelings

by Sharon Weisz
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According to Sara Chana Radcliffe, Psychologist, in her book “How to Raise your Kids without Raising your Voice”, parents want their children to be happy. As a result, they try to make bad feelings go away by trying to distract, cheer up, or downplay their child’s emotions. However, feelings need to be acknowledged and accepted, not pushed aside. In fact, the only way to change a feeling is to accept it.

She goes on to say that “all feelings are acceptable. Not all behaviours are acceptable.”

From the time our children are very small, it is important to incorporate feelings words into our everyday vocabulary. In so doing, we are teaching them to use words, rather than actions, to express their feelings and to calm down. We are also showing them that they have a safe place to talk about their thoughts and feelings.

This can be done in a number of ways:
– Sing songs, such as “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” You may add extra verses, such as “If you’re hungry, eat some food” and “If you’re grouchy, stomp your feet”.

– Talk about how we, ourselves, are feelings in the moment, for example, “Mommy is really excited that we are going to the zoo” or “Daddy is feeling sad that you hit your brother”.
– Talk about how the child is feeling in the moment, for example, “I see that you are feeling sad that Grandma left” or “You are feeling angry that your brother took your toy.”

– Books
– When reading books together, talk about how the characters are feeling and why, for example, “Franklin is embarrassed because he can’t ride his bike without his training wheels and all of his friends can. Can you think of a time when you felt embarrassed?”
– Try to relate a feeling to a past experience, for example, “I see that you are sad that you didn’t get a sticker. Remember how disappointed you felt when we went to the ice cream store and it was closed. That was so disappointing. Luckily, we went the next day and got a great big scoop of chocolate ice cream with sprinkles!”

– Point out how other people are feeling, for example, “That little girl is crying. She is sad because you took her shovel away”, or “That little boy is excited to go swimming. He must really like swimming.”

When we talk about our feelings, both positive and negative in our daily lives, we are modeling how to express ourselves with words for our children so that the door will be open for them to recognize and talk about their feelings should the time arise. According to John Gottman in his book, “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child”, by acknowledging and accepting our children’s feelings, we are equipping them with “Emotional Intelligence”, an essential life skill. Children with emotional intelligence demonstrate awareness of both their own feelings and those of others. In addition, they demonstrate superior social skills and self-regulation.

Next time you or your child is having a feeling, name it and share it with each other!

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