Topic of the month - Big feelings, little kids
Updated: Jun 14, 2022
As your child experiences any of these big 5 emotions, a parent or caregiver must be able to do two things: identify the feeling and explain how the child can deal with it.
This emotion may arise whenever a child’s fight or flight response is triggered. It can happen when a child gets physically assaulted like being pushed out of the way or kicked, or when his or her toy is taken away by a playmate.
When these events happen, a child’s immediate reaction is to either respond with the aim of self-preservation or run away from the situation. Whichever course of action they take, parents and caregivers such as early childhood educators must be quick to act and address the child’s feelings.
Be sure never to downplay the emotion they are feeling; instead, ask for confirmation on what they think they are feeling and if they are yet able to identify, frame your description of the situation with some plausibility so the child can easily refute or correct you if your description is not as accurate to what they’re feeling.
Once properly identified as anger, explain that the child can safely express their feeling by telling the offending person what they did to make the child feel that way. This way, the offending party, whether an adult or a playmate, is able to understand exactly what behaviour of theirs caused the child to feel anger.
It also helps the child categorise the feeling accurately, so that in the future, when he/she feels the feeling, he/she will know how to react.
While you as a parent or primary carer may have to repeat identifying and explaining ways on how to deal or manage the feeling a few more times, this is important so that the child will have a consistent basis, much like a sturdy scaffolding, to help them navigate through the complex world of emotions and feelings before dealing and managing these big emotions on their own successfully.
Feelings of sadness can still creep in to a young child who’s usually full of positivity and cheerfulness. For example, when a promised trip to a park falls through, or when a best friend moves away to somewhere far away, or their favourite toy has been lost. These events may trigger a feeling of sadness.
A child may become subdued, be quieter than usual, lose appetite, or simply cry. Again, helping the child identify the feeling of sadness and name it when they feel it in the future.
As they identify feeling sad, help them overcome this depressing feeling by sharing a similar situation wherein you also felt sad. Let them know what helped you in situations where you felt sad. Another strategy is to reframe the situation and mention any positive consequences that may come out of it.
Jealousy is mostly felt by young children in regards to their relationships with their parents, relatives, friends, and teachers. Having feelings of jealousy for a young child means a fear of losing something they already have–be it a favourite toy, attention, or company.
Jealousy and envy are closely related in that while jealousy is an expression of insecurity over losing something they already have, envy is a feeling of wanting something they do not have.
For example, a young child may snatch away a toy from a playmate when they want it, oblivious to the playmate’s feelings if the toy is snatched away.
Or a young child may exhibit feelings of jealousy when his/her mother holds another child in their arms. Or when a teacher redirects their attention from the child to another classmate.
While it may be hard to fight the green-eyed monster, there are ways to help a child feel more secure. The first thing to do is always have the child spill the beans about what they are feeling. Let them know that while what they are feeling is valid, help them understand the situation better by framing it in a positive way and help them refocus their attention on something that will make them happy.
While present from birth, young children’s source of fears change and evolve as they grow older. Most children become afraid when they sense danger in their environment or when they see or hear something that gives them that danger is near.
As a parent or caregiver, it is important to listen when children voice out their fears. It may be harder to determine the root cause of their fear. However, one can respond to the child in a calm manner while not downplaying their worries and fears. Affirm that their feeling of fear is normal, answer
any questions that they may have, and if you don’t have the answer, let them know it as well and that you’ll get back to them after researching it.
Disgust is mainly characterised by feelings of discomfort. It may be unnerving, and uncomfortable for the child to confront a source of disgust. This usually ends up with the young child crying, wailing or throwing a tantrum. Research shows that it is an evolutionary feeling that helped our ancestors protect themselves from dangerous animals.
While removing the offending object that is the source of disgust can quickly calm down a child, sometimes it can be hard or impossible to do this coping strategy.
However, parents and caregivers can easily model a coping mechanism to help the child learn how to react when faced with disgusting elements. Astudyhas shown that children learn how to pattern their reaction to a disgusting event from adults’ reaction.
While disgust is a natural emotion for young children to feel, theright parenting and modelling behaviouris enough to help the child know how toproperly respond and communicate their feelings without being disruptive to others.
The Steps to Deal with Big Emotions
Young children can seem to be just as moody as hormonal teenagers–smiling one second then bursting into tears the next. However, when it comes to young children, an observant adult can usually point out the source of the tears, frustration and change in mood in young children.
Recognising the root cause of the scream, tear, or tantrum is the first key step in dealing with big emotions and its flamboyant display in little children.
As the emotion gets the young child overwhelmed, the child is driven to give into the impulse to let out the big emotion they’re feeling through the only way they have known since the start of their still young lives–to cry it out loud.
Keep in mind that young children still have very limited vocabulary which makes it more difficult for them to accurately express what they are feeling. Experts advise parents and caregivers to use a visual aid which could be a printout of emojis or an app that has emoticons that show a wide range of emotions. A child can then point out what they’re feeling from the chart and let you know which feeling it is. It would also help for a parent or caregiver to use appropriate words in describing their own feelings. This gives the child a pattern to model their own behaviour. You can also try to help your child verbally express their feelings by labelling their feelings as they use their visual aid to point out their feelings.
Managing feelings depends on which case it is. Experts advise that generally, the adult must never downplay the emotion the child is feeling. Adults must also encourage the child to voice out or express their feelings and that they should never be ashamed of the emotions they feel.
What should be mitigated however is the disruptive behaviour of the negative feelings such as retaliation by resorting to physical violence when angry, or refusing to acknowledge what they’re feeling when they are sad or afraid.
While young children are beyond self-regulating, you can teach them slowly to self-soothe at first then self-regulate. While self-regulating may not happen as quickly as you want, every big feeling event can be an opportunity to teach your child on how to better manage and regulate their emotions.
This part of a child’s social-emotional development is also something that takes time, from their birth up until around when they start school. While self-regulation relies mostly on the child, parents and caregivers can be patient guides in reminding the child learned self-soothing and regulating behaviour.
While young children under 5 are still developing emotional regulation in their limbic system, parents and caregivers can provide much needed scaffolding and guidance to help young children practice and perfect their regulation mechanisms.
3 Techniques on How to Help a Young Child Express Their Feelings
Use bedtime stories to recognise feelings.
As you read them bedtime stories, point out examples of how the characters displayed or expressed their feelings. Ask your toddler what feelings he/she can relate to. Learning to recognise emotions in another character can also lead the child to empathise more and relate to his/her peers.
Get help from their imaginary friends.
Two- and three-year olds are precocious toddlers who are starting to also develop their imagination. Their toys begin to have names, even personalities. As they practise interacting with their imaginary friends, enact scenarios using their imaginary friends’ personalities to help your child understand how to relate when other people around them display negative emotions.
Provide ways for them to healthily express negative emotions.
Emotional regulation doesn’t happen overnight. It is the result of consistent training and guidance of your child when it comes to dealing with difficult emotions and big feelings. Aside from preventing them from doing destructive behaviour on themselves and their peers, you can also direct them to release their negative emotions in other ways such as jumping or stamping their feet. However, ensure they do not resort to these coping strategies in excess that it results in tantrums.
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