It was a boring rainy afternoon and my four years old son was pulling my leg trying desperately to get my attention. I tried to please him 101 different ways, each and every time he automatically replied; "Mommy I love you to the moon and back." His sweet words usually melt my heart, but hearing that phrase 101 times in one hour was calling for overload. My automatically loving response was suddenly replaced by the horrible thought; "If I hear it one more time, I will scream to the roof and back!" The same second I recognized the shout from my unconscious mind, I stopped and tuned into my intuition. I kindly stroked his head and shocked him with a firm question; "Hey love, can you tell me how loving me to moon and back feels?" His eyes moved to the ground and I was amusing myself by observing him, noticing how he was desperately looking for the right answer. How does loving to the moon and back feel? I encouraged him with some powerful questions and at the end he managed to explain his feeling of love as feeling warmth in the heart and feeling really pleasant when he is around me. Wow, I needed almost 10 minutes to get such answer!
At that moment it hit me. Kids know how to use right words for their feelings from the time they first start talking. However, when it comes to actually explaining how those words feel, they struggle to recognize the emotions and explain what they are all about.
Since that day we started a new daily practice in my family. When someone uses a word for a specific emotion, she or he needs to explain in three words how this feeling is featured. We also have a before-sleep routine - each of us shares what was the worst and the best feeling of that day and explains some details about it. In less than a month I have noticed clear transformation in our family's communication. We are not using words for emotions for distraction anymore and kids almost completely diched winning. They can now clearly interpret what they want and how they feel. They found a way to find easier, faster and better solutions.
There are also many other fun and playful ways to encourage young children identify and express emotions:
- Play with words. When your kid asks you for a glass of water, encourage him to tell you how he is feeling? Is thirsty the right answer? Or is he perhaps hungry, or bored or curious about the glass you will pick? By naming feelings it allows children to develop an emotional vocabulary so they can talk about their feelings
- Introduce emotional quiz. When kids are tired of playing, invite them to amuse themselves by observing others. Sit on a bench or in front of a window and just play by observing what other people are doing. When there is a scene in which emotions are obviously expressed, play a quiz. Everyone needs to guess what observed person is feeling. The one who gets the most right answers (you are the judge), gets an ice-cream or a lollypop.
- Encourage them to make an emotional drawing. When your kids are in a good mood, ask them to draw a picture of what they are feeling. Help them express with colors, face expressions and metaphors. You can even help them by proposing specific objects for common sensations (like warmth = sun, ball = enthusiasm …). When this play becomes familiar, use it also to express and negative feelings.
- It is very important that you practice identifying feelings through play so that kids can unleash their sub-consciousness and freely listen to their insights. Don't forget to praise them when they talk about their feelings and always carefully listen to what they are saying. Use gentle questions to help them find the best solution for dealing with what they are feeling. Don't get tempted to force your solutions, let them figure it out for themselves and lead them only with your best example.
When we teach our kids to recognize and express their feelings, they become more self-confident and mindful and they also develop deep empathy. This will serve them also in many ways later on in life. As they will better understand the needs of people around them, they will have less trouble dealing with conflicts. Furthermore, they will be able to more accurately predict the actions and reactions of people they interact with. By understanding the unspoken parts of communication with others, they will more effectively convince others of their point of view. If we encourage them to listen to what they are saying and expressing and tune in with the emotions in their bodies. These skills will provide them with the most precious gift for a successful and happy adulthood. It may be a bit challenging at the beginning, but when you practice for a while, you and your kid's thinking patterns will rewire and you will automatically start digging deeper. This practice will not only make you both more emotionally intelligent but will also build a strong bond that will last forever.
by Spela Kaurin