One of the foundations of emotional intelligence is being able to identify emotions.
One way kids learn about how to talk about and handle emotions is from their parents, both directly and indirectly. How you handle emotions (yours and theirs) makes a significant impact.
Yes, like literally being able to name a feeling.
It seems too simple, but as leading author, psychiatrist and mental health expert, Daniel Siegel, M. D. says: you have to “name it to tame it”.
Essentially, emotions want to be seen. Sometimes just acknowledging them is enough to have them process and evaporate.
As a parent, it’s never too early to start helping your child name what they feel.
As a baby, you might reflect it back to them “oh, you feel frustrated”. Just like you talk to them to help their brain develop on so many levels. You talk to them to help them develop a vocabulary and dialogue around emotions.
You can ask them what they think other kids are feeling like their siblings, friends or other kids you encounter in the world who are having big feelings.
When you reflect back how you see your child is feeling, that is providing mirroring.
This helps your child pair their internal state with the word. Eventually, they will internalize that understanding and be able to label the feelings for themselves. Again, labeling the feeling can sometimes be enough to metabolize and resolve the emotion that has come up.
When you ask them how they think other children are feeling, that helps them with social connections, developing a sense of empathy and attunement. It teaches them to reflect on other’s emotional states naturally.
Sometimes when people are older and we label emotions, this might be met with resistance.
Sometimes that is because a person wants to hide an emotion that seems unacceptable, even simply because of societal standards. We worry about being viewed as intolerant or “not nice” if irritation or anger comes up.
If you have a child or teenager who might be upset by you labeling emotions, you can do this indirectly:
“If I were in your position, I might feel pretty mad about that.”
“It would be understandable if that upset you.”
“I wouldn’t blame you for being frustrated about that.”
“I think a lot of people might feel sad in that same situation”
And then leave it. No need to say anything further or have them agree.
These are simply ways to make space for there to be emotion.
Your child or teenager doesn’t have to acknowledge that is the way they feel or might even fully reject your statement. That’s OK.
If you are not sure what the emotion is, you might simply replace the specific emotion with “feel something”. For example: “It would be understandable if you felt something about that”.
The point is inviting some reflection about what feeling is there, even if they only do that internally.
Reflecting about feelings leads to acknowledgement of feelings, which leads to better emotional regulation and increased ability to problem solve and communicate.
Feelings will occur whether they are acknowledged or not. Better to have them be part of conscious awareness rather than stored in the body or stored away for a big eruption of emotion at some later date.
This is just one simple thing you can do to support your child’s emotional intelligence, health and resilience.
If you would love further support around raising emotionally resilient kids, contact us!