Understanding Your Child’s Emotions: A Guide for Parents

May 15, 2023
Child’s Emotions

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Parents play many critical roles in their children’s lives, and one of the most important is understanding and supporting their emotional development. Emotions are a key part of our personalities, and being able to regulate and express them appropriately will help the child build strong relationships, manage challenges, and create a foundation for a successful life.  

However, children are little people with big emotions, and sometimes understanding these feelings can be tough for parents. They may have overly strong feelings about certain issues or topics, while other times you may wonder why they don’t show their emotions as strongly as you would expect. In this guide for parents, we will look at all the topics you need to know in order to understand and facilitate healthy emotional regulation and development in your child. 

Emotional Health and Your Child

Unfortunately, we live in a society where even adults don’t always demonstrate emotional health or their emotions in a productive way. This is a part of life, and your job as a parent is simply to help your own child the best way you can. First, you must understand the theories behind emotional health.  

Emotional health is a matrix that encompasses what we think, what we feel, and what we do. Our thoughts and emotions come together to profoundly affect our day-to-day lives, our choices, and our futures. Teaching a child not to give in to the fear of peer pressure, for example, can be the key to keeping them out of situations that can permanently affect their life and have severe consequences.  

This process starts in childhood and continues throughout their whole lives. Teaching them these skills when they are young will give them more control over their emotions when they are older, which is one key to setting your child up for success. First, they must have a good handle on their emotional regulation.  

What is Emotional Regulation?

One convenient way to simplify the process of developing healthy emotions in a child is to understand the concept of emotional regulation, which is the ability to consciously control your mental state. In a sense, this is one of the factors separating humans from animals - the ability to self-reflect and exert control over our own minds.  

In children, this allows them to react to experiences and surprises in a socially acceptable way, as well as being flexible enough to handle oncoming challenges and variables that might upset them. Confidence is key, and this will give them the confidence they need to succeed.  

So, how does a parent encourage the development of emotional regulation in their child? The following strategies can be helpful:

  • Give them names for their feelings and encourage them to express themselves using “I feel” statements.
  • Explore with them what triggers or causes these emotions. 
  • Point out their feelings when you notice them to begin the process of attaching names to them.
  • Normalize the feelings by telling them it is OK to feel that way. 
  • Teach them coping strategies like deep breathing or walking away.
  • Model healthy emotions for them at home.
  • Utilize the services of counselors or professionals to assist you when having difficulty. 

Handling Negative Emotions

Most parents don’t struggle with their children feeling happy, excited, or proud of themselves. These are positive, natural emotions, and every parent enjoys seeing their child express them. More challenging, however, can be when your child expresses anger, fear, or frustration.  

Luckily, you are not alone. This is a common challenge that all parents deal with at some point, and there are some common strategies that you can use to manage it. 

  • First, recognize that these emotions can be caused by almost anything, and it might not make sense to you. Every child is different and reacts to situations in different ways. 
  • Enforce boundaries. While it may be tough, you must teach your child that there are boundaries they must stay within and consequences for not following them. This will help immensely as they grow into adults, and every child craves boundaries and routines even when they seem to fight them.
  • When they act out or express their emotions negatively, encourage them to describe the event as a story. This works well for young children who don’t empathize well with others yet. Ask them what happened, what they thought, what they felt, and finally, what actions they took.  

All of these techniques have a shared goal of giving them the ability to exist in the world as independent children, teens, and then adults, with a strong ability to manage and control their own minds and emotions.

For the parent, understanding their child’s emotions is one of the main keys to setting them up for success. Use the strategies in this guide, and you will be well on your way!

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