Managing Emotions

Understanding and Managing Emotions in Children

23 November 2023
Posted by: Chelsea

Managing Emotions in Children – It’s self-evident that babies and children have emotions. Parents and care providers need to help children to firstly understand their emotions and secondly to exercise some degree of control over them.

Managing Emotions in Children

In what follows, when speaking of understanding and managing emotions in children, we’ll be discussing up to the age of around 8 years. Teenagers and children entering puberty typically require different approaches and techniques.

Understanding emotions

Children experience emotions long before they have a name for them or understand what’s happening when they experience them.

With children under 3 or 4, parents and care providers must help them to identify the main emotions and provide the children with a reference framework to understand them.

One good technique is to use books or perhaps videos. For example, a character can be picked out who looks angry and the word “anger” can be taught and explained. The context can also be given, such as “do you think that girl looks angry because the boy has taken her ball?”.

Even though at these ages children may struggle to describe their emotions using the correct terms, this process will help them to relate words and descriptions to how they’re feeling. It’s important to try to avoid allocating valuable words (good or bad etc.) to such feelings. Children will inevitably feel emotions and it isn’t desirable that they feel guilty about doing so by thinking that it’s ‘wrong’ to feel angry or sad etc.

Rationalising emotions

From around 3 or 4, children should be able to understand the difference between emotions and how one acts upon them. So, while emotions such as anger are not, in themselves, ‘bad’, acting badly because one is angry is and is something to be avoided.

This is a very difficult distinction that even some adults have trouble fully mastering. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for helping children to grasp this critically important distinction and parental commitment to patience and effort will be required.

A good general technique is to make the time to talk at length to younger children when they’re in an emotional situation. This shouldn’t always be a negative situation. For example, if a child has won a game, they can be asked if they feel happy and what it feels like for them. Does it make them want to play again? Would it be right to boast? How do they think the children who didn’t win feel?

In negative situations, the same techniques can be applied. Do they feel bad because they didn’t win? Do they want to play again? How do they think the child that won feels and is behaving?

More commonly, anger can be explored using the same techniques. Ask how they feel and what they want to do. Discuss why reacting badly wouldn’t be a good idea and how it might hurt others around them.

Using these techniques can help younger children to improve their comprehension of their own emotional condition and to develop controls that permit them to recognize their own anger or frustration while at the same time, not acting upon those feelings to the detriment of others.

There is good experimental evidence to show that these efforts do help children to establish better control over their emotions at earlier ages.

Development issues

There is evidence also though that some of our ability to control our emotions comes from our genetic legacy. Some children may, in spite of parental best efforts, take longer to learn to control their emotions.

Patience may be required.

In a few rare situations, children may struggle to learn such controls at all. For example, some may find it difficult or impossible to empathize with others – something that is a key component of emotional control.

These issues are often spotted in pre-school or in early primary school years. If they arise, there are excellent professional counselling techniques available that may well help parents to help their children.

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