Updated: Apr 1, 2020
“Use your words!” has become a common saying for our children when we can see they are about to go over the edge into an emotional whirlwind. And indeed, children who are encouraged to find words for their feelings and needs learn how to better understand, regulate and appropriately express their emotions. However, children who do not receive validation for their feelings and needs will be conflicted: they still feel something going inside, but they don’t think they can talk about this.
This conflict can lead to overwhelming emotions, problems manging these emotions, and dysfunctional ways of trying to dull or let loose all the feelings inside. Often, caregivers to these children have been overly dismissive (“He told me to stop crying and get on with is.”), are unavailable (“She was always struggling with her own depression, so I made sure to not add any extra burden.”), are emotionally restricted themselves (“We never talked about feelings at home.”), are uncomfortable with the expression of feelings (“She left the room when I started to cry.”), or respond in punitive ways.
So what can we do as adults to help to fulfil the need for expression of feelings and needs in our children? Here are a few ideas:
· Talk openly about the feelings you experience
· Practice labelling specific feelings with your children
· Validate and acknowledge feelings and needs that your children express respectfully
· Show understanding and support
· Refrain from blaming children for their feelings
· Emphasize that feelings are okay to experience and express
· Differentiate between the feeling and the behaviour, show understanding, and encourage children to find better resolutions for situations, i.e. “It is okay to feel angry that Johnny took your toy. I would feel angry too. It is not okay to hit Johnny for doing that. How can we work this out?”
· Discuss the value of emotions and how they help us in our lives
· Help children to find healthy adaptive ways of expressing, managing and regulating their emotions
Allowing children to express feelings and needs and meeting these with validation and support, helps children to develop a good understanding of emotions and appropriate coping strategies. It will also increase their sense of safety and nurturance; they will feel someone is there to understand and support them. It can make children more comfortable with vulnerability and teach them when it is appropriate and conducive to be vulnerable with another person. Importantly, it stops children from suppressing their feelings in unhealthy ways.
The need for expression of feelings and needs remains relevant for us as adults. If we have grown up in an environment that restricted such expression, we have not developed essential emotion regulation tools and instead may spend a significant amount of time trying to avoid our feelings. This can lead to detachment or increasingly overwhelming feelings as they try to grab our attention. However, regardless of our childhood, with the right tools, we are able to meet this need in adulthood without letting the past control us. The way we would treat children now, is the way we can also nurture our own inner child.
To find out more about how to help your children express their feelings or to successfully meet your own need of expression of feelings and needs, book a consultation with Dr. Terrighena on (852) 2715 4577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.