With some tools, tips, and practice, you can become a parent pro at talking about emotional health. It starts with knowing how to recognize and identify your own emotions and help your child identify theirs.
- A child who is frustrated with a school assignment may avoid their work or talk about how they are not smart.
- A child who is nervous about something, may have a stomach ache before facing what worries them.
- A child who is anxious about an upcoming event may talk a lot about the event, to the point you think they are really excited about it.
If you see your tween experiencing an emotion, use the opportunity to help them name and accept their feeling. Be patient and have a feelings card handy to help them pinpoint the emotion. Remember they might be feeling more than one emotion, that’s perfectly normal.
You may be tempted to provide the answer to what they are feeling. Allow the child to help define their own feelings. Your role is to offer suggestions if they get stuck. When a child shares their uninterrupted story of how they feel and why, skills are reinforced for future use.
Feelings come and go and vary in intensity. Some feelings are welcome, while others may feel unwelcome. Accepting feelings when they are present can be uncomfortable for tweens and adults. Helping your tween understand that all feelings are valuable and have a role, will allow them to accept emotions as natural. Accepting that all feelings have purpose is the first step to managing their effect. You may be tempted to rush a child through uncomfortable emotions. But allowing them to sit with the feeling will better prepare them for the next time the feeling occurs.
Validation means acknowledging another person’s experience without judgement. This is important for tweens because they are developing their own ideas and testing social norms about emotional expression. Sending a message that feelings are welcome and important, will encourage deeper conversation. Validating your tween’s experience doesn’t have to mean you agree with their perception; simply being understood can open later doors toward re-framing and re-defining their conclusions.
Here are some tips and tools to identify, accept, and validate what a child is experiencing:
- Just like the airlines recommend, take care of your needs first. Practice the steps of identify, accept, and validate your own feelings.
- Expand your emotional vocabulary and encourage your tween to do the same.
- Role model how to verbalize your current emotional state and how you plan to handle it. Use the phrase “I feel __(emotion)__ because __(situation)_, so I will/need __(action)_.”
- Don’t try to fix or change the feelings you are hearing
- Help acknowledge why the feeling might be happening based on circumstances. Use the phrase “No wonder you’re feeling _____”, to normalize the feeling.
- Share your own experiences about how you have handled similar emotions or circumstances. Asking permission can help; “I remember when I experienced something similar at your age. Any interest in how I responded?”
- Practice meditation or taking slow, deep breaths when feelings arise.
- Help your child make a plan in advance for how to handle intense feelings. Remember, not all intense feelings are negative. A good plan should include the ability to name the feeling, identify healthy ways to manage the feeling, (such as breathing, physical activity, talking, or an enjoyable activity), and asking for help when needed.
- Allow & encourage appropriate emotional risks for your tween, such as trying out for a team, sharing feelings when they disagree with something, or speaking up about something they find important.
- Have frequent conversations about feelings.