We all go through tough times every so often. It always feels like it happens too often. We need to remember that kids go through these times too.
The problem with children who experience strong emotions is they are frequently even less prepared than adults. They can become depressed, sad, angry, worried and lonely and not know how to discuss it with anyone.
This can make them even more depressed, sad, angry, worried and lonely.
Children aren’t born with an understanding of their emotions, and they don’t usually know how to express their feelings in socially appropriate ways. A child who doesn’t know what to do when he feels sad may spend hours pouting by himself. A teen who doesn’t know now to manage his anger may become more aggressive and have frequent angry outbursts.
When children don’t understand their emotions, they may also avoid anything that feels uncomfortable. For example, a child who is really shy in social situations may avoid joining a new activity because she lacks confidence in her ability to tolerate the discomfort associated with trying new things. Kids can learn how to handle their feelings in a healthy manner if they are just given a little help.
One of the most overlooked situations is when the adults in the child’s life are going through difficult times. When parents are considering divorce or when there is illness in the family the parents can be having a very difficult time. It is also a time they can totally miss or even ignore their children who may be having problems with the same situation.
Strike up a conversation
The best way to help your child who is having difficulty with life is to talk with him. Let him know you are there for him even when times are difficult for you. Hugs always help.
Sometimes parents miss the clues that their child is having difficulty. Look at your child’s behavior for clues. He may show his feelings by seeming sad or he may be irritable or angry. Some children become tearful and withdraw from their friends and family. Others may have a loss of interest in activities or lack enthusiasm and motivation. Some children show a lack of energy and others seem tired.
Feelings of worthlessness and guilt are not uncommon with a child who is struggling. At times children begin to do poorly in school. Unexplained illness or changes in eating and sleeping habits also are clues he is having problems. The worst is when he has thoughts of death or suicide. At times you may need professional help.
The most important way you can help your child is by helping him learn about emotions early in life. Read stories and talk about how the characters are doing. Your can do this with most stories even in beginning reading books.
In any storybook you are reading, ask your child to identify how the characters are feeling. They don’t have to be “emotion books.” Even familiar stories like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” has lots of opportunities to talk about emotions (disappointed they have to wait for the porridge to cool, curious what the beds feel like, surprised to see Goldilocks, scared to see the bears, etc. … ).
Throughout the day, help your child learn to label his own emotions. During meal time, tell your child about a situation that makes you feel a particular emotion (e.g., happy, sad, frustrated, angry, jealous). Then ask him to share the things that make him feel that same emotion.
Share with your child about something that took place in your life that made you feel frustrated, sad, happy and scared. Talk about what you did to feel better. “I was feeling so sad about Dad being sick and then somebody gave me a hug. I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. Have you ever felt that way?”
Open up the world of emotions for your child. Be there for him. Talk with him. Share with him. Maybe even cry with him. Emotions are good as well as tough.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.