Opening an Emotional Dialogue with Your Young Child
Sometimes it's hard to know how to talk with our young children. Learn how you can open an emotional dialogue with your kids and teach them to communicate their feelings.
Keep it Simple
Mandel advises that parents begin talking to their children about their feelings from an early age in an open, honest way that will lend itself to more open lines of communication. Statistics show that kids today show more signs of depression than ever before and at earlier ages. This can only be remedied by learning to encourage them to consistently express their feelings in an honest and safe environment.
“Talking to and with our children is one of the most important things parents can do for them,” says Dr. Mandel. “We must also be good listeners. Children learn how to express their feelings when they have good role models in their parents.”
Mandel advises us that one of the most important things to remember is, “Try to always be patient, kind, loving and non-shaming. While it’s very tempting as parents to try to control our children when we feel they are straying off the path we envision for them, it’s really beneficial to them and will allow them the freedom to grow.”
What many parents forget is that children are not simply miniature adults, but are quite different developmentally insofar as emotional readiness and maturity. Often parents speak to their children in a way that turns them off from expressing themselves. As a result, children say they don’t feel heard by their parents when they are trying to tell them about their feelings.
Dr. Mandel recommends keeping the “feelings” language as simple as possible, using words such as “sad, mad, glad, or afraid.” She also advises helping children to avoid confusing their feelings with their thoughts. For example, she says that when a child declares, “I feel that you aren’t interested in me,” it’s not a statement of feelings. But if the child says, “I see that you don’t seem interested in me, and I feel sad about that,” this is a statement of their feelings.
“In the first statement, the feeling gets lost in the perception,” she observes. “In the second, we get the perception and then we know how the child feels. The better parents become at expressing their actual feelings and not disguising them as thoughts, the better our children become at it.”
Mandel says that children like to know that their parents can have true empathy concerning what they are going through. “But at the same time, lots of details are usually unnecessary,” she notes. “It truly depends on the situation and the maturity level of the child.”
Mandel stresses that it’s important for parents to understand that allowing their kids to express their feelings doesn’t give them license to hurt others or to act out aggressively. “For instance, allowing a child to talk about anger doesn’t mean he is allowed to throw toys at his baby brother. It just means that what he feels will be acknowledged and respected.”
10 Tips for Communicating with Your Kids about Their Feelings
- Talk less and listen more. Encourage your child to speak freely without constant interruption from you.
- Try not to lecture or give advice too readily. Absorb what your child is saying first and really listen.
- Create a safe, friendly and non-threatening environment for your kids to express their feelings.
- Use open-ended questions instead of leading questions, leaving them room to answer in a way that makes them feel comfortable, such as, “How did that make you feel?” rather than, “Why are you so angry?”
- Teach your child that any feelings he has are okay to feel, but that he must act responsibly and respectfully regarding those feelings.
- Don’t assume what your child is feeling. For instance, anger can be a sign of depression. Make sure to let your child express to you all she is feeling before making a quick leap to judgement.
- Be a good role model. Be honest and open with your child where appropriate so he knows what it looks like to share and convey emotions and feelings.
- Keep things simple. Try not to over-complicate every situation. Sometimes kids are just tired, hungry, or overwhelmed and need some downtime. Not everything needs to be discussed and analyzed.
- Allow your child room to grow up and change her style of communicating her feelings as she grows up.
- Most importantly, let your child know that you love him unconditionally and that it is always safe to come to you and be open with his feelings.
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