Getting in touch with your child's emotions
This may differ from culture to culture, but in my line of work I hear a lot of parents dismiss their child’s feelings without a second thought. Often, this is meant well; the feelings are hurtful to the child and parents want to make their children feel better.
At the nursery, each feeling is allowed to exist and be voiced, and if it is hard for children to do so we help them with it.
Not all children are able to express their feelings clearly, and the same goes for many adults. It often takes a lot of analysis, therapy or meditation to get to the bottom of our own feelings, and sometimes we never really get to them at all.
So how do you make sure you hear what meaning lies beneath the words spoken out loud, and help children express their true feelings? This may sound difficult, but all it takes is changing the way you speak and knowing your child – and as I am sure you know your own child inside out, this should be an easy one.
The trick, simple as it may sound, is just asking your child. They will feel what is right and let you know. After all, they trust you and can be honest with you, as you are with them. Try something like: “I can see you are crying. Is this because you cannot have a second cookie?” or “You are crying because…” and let them finish the sentence (pro tip: it’s almost never because of the cookie).
Even if it does not yield results straight away, this method of talking is a good practice when talking to children (and adults, if you feel like being nice) anyway. It opens up room for honesty and openness and is a non-judgmental way of interacting.
Walking the fine line between taking your child seriously while not necessarily taking everything they say as gospel can be difficult, especially if you are not great at being in touch with your own emotions.
So practice by asking yourself similar questions if you find it difficult. Tell yourself: “I feel sad, because..” and give yourself time to calmly and honestly finish your own sentence. When it feels right, start saying it in front of your child, and share your own feelings with them (when appropriate). Say to your child: “I get angry too, sometimes, when I cannot have what I want. Do you feel that way too?”
The more you do this, the more natural it will feel, and the more children will be able to express their emotions freely and openly. Be open to an emotional discourse not only with your child, but with yourself, too. Who knows, you might surprise yourself.
Merel Miedema is an early childhood educator in Amsterdam, where she works at one of the city’s oldest independent and green crèches.