One of the ways we can teach our kids how to talk about what is bugging them is by modeling it ourselves.
I’ll be the first to tell you we’ve struggled with “emotion awareness” as a family. We’ve been on this journey of emotion coaching for several years now but it hasn’t been until the last few years that I felt like everyone was on board.
My husband and I didn’t grow up in homes where feelings weren’t discussed so we never learned how to talk about our feelings. In fact, I would say on a personal-relational level I avoided people at all costs who had no boundaries with their emotions especially if they were negative and messy.
So with a house full of boys who have no desire to talk about their feelings, this journey has been a long one, but a much-needed one that I’m glad we started.
The emotion coaching starts young but if you have older kids it’s never too late. We didn’t start this journey until adulthood so we can vouch for — it’s never too late. It’s so worth it!
Teaching Your Kids How to Talk About What Is Bugging Them
Here are a few things to consider:
- You can’t give your kids what you don’t have. If you don’t have a grasp on emotional awareness your kids will pick up on that and you won’t be able to model it.
- Your children mirror your feelings and responses.
- Your feelings matter.
- Your child’s feelings matter.
- Our feelings need the input of our brain so they don’t take over.
- Emotions are contagious.
As Christians, we probably tend to let things go which sometimes can be a good thing. But a problem arises when we quickly want to push our feelings aside without processing and then “stuffing”.
Now more than ever let’s teach our kids how to talk about what is bugging them. I don’t have to tell you that anger is an issue in our society. All you have to do is turn on the TV or read an article online and you’ll see headlines filled with angry people doing destructive and hateful things.
Pent-up anger wreaks havoc in our mind and body. It can hurt you and has the potential to hurt others. “If we bottle things up, they don’t just go away. Emotions will stay down until we physically can’t contain them anymore, then they’ll burst out fiercer than before. And it won’t just be that one feeling, it will be everything else that’s been thrown on top of it since. For some people, it can be years, or even decades, or repressed experiences.” ~ Insider.com
Are you unaware of your feelings and unintentionally stuffing? Then something small happens and you “lose” it and find yourself really mad about something small. Do you find that your children are okay and then out of nowhere they have a sudden outburst of anger over something really small? These can be signs of stuffing and not aware of the emotions your feeling when something happens to you or around you.
Parents as Emotion Coaches & Feelings for Kids
So let me show you this simple tool will get you started on becoming more emotionally aware and gives you the words to express what’s going on inside.
I have taught this lesson to parents and children and I’ve even gone into high schools to teach “I” messages. I think we can all relate to our stress levels being a lot higher with this pandemic and the many new roles we’ve had to carry as a result of it.
So here’s a way you can be an emotion coach for your children to help them see that emotions are merely signals sort of like data. They aren’t good or bad, they are there for a reason letting us know something is up. We need to learn to be curious about them– Why am I so irritated? I am feeling really disappointed about this. This is so relaxing.
In Eq.org a website focused on helping parents become emotionally intelligent says,
When feelings arise: we can just notice, validate, and acknowledge them — we don’t need to agree, we just need to be curious.
“I” messages work so well because:
- It not only lets the other person know what your feelings are important but it also helps you express that your needs are important.
- It helps you identify your feelings and even helps you stay calm.
- It gives you power, not the feelings.
- It also helps communicate your needs in a respectful way without hitting, fighting or yelling.
My children usually say after I ask them to “Talk it Out” (a great approach for dealing with sibling rivalry), “Well, it doesn’t matter what I tell him, he’s going to still do it again.” Even if the request is not followed through on you have become stronger by expressing your needs.
How to Start “I” Messages with Your Children
- Come up with a list of emotion words and familiarize yourself and your family with them. If you go online and look up “emotion cards” you’ll find lots of free resources for cards with faces to help you become familiar with different emotion words. I’ve also purchased this Feelings Playing Cards.
- If verbally expressing emotions is difficult for your child you may want to start by helping them label those emotions throughout the day both happy and hard emotions. For example, “I’m noticing that you’re frustrated that crayon won’t work. It looks like that activity helped you feel relaxed. I can tell you are feeling annoyed by that sound. Did that verse make you feel loved?”
- You’ll want to print out the “I” messages sheet. Place it somewhere everyone can see it maybe the fridge or pantry.
Download your printable —> _I_ Messages
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- Explain to your family how to use “I” messages.
Using “I” messages for sibling rivalry or talking about what is bugging you:
- The Emotion. You start off by stating how you feel at that moment. I feel…
- The Why. Then you move on to let them know why you feel this way. When…
- The Need. Finally, you let them know what you would like for them to do. I would like for you…
Here are some examples,
- The emotion. I feel jealous
- The why. when you show off all the crayons you have but you don’t let me use them.
- The need. I would like for you to stop doing that if you’re not going to let me use the crayons.
I feel rejected when you don’t invite me to join any of your games. I would like for you to ask me to join you because I enjoy playing with you.
I feel mad when you call me names and criticize me. If you continue talking to me in this way I will walk away/hang up the phone.
Here are some emotion coaching resources you can use to get you started on this journey:
What Am I feeling? by Joshua Straub
My Feelings and Me by Holde Kreul
Train Your Angry Dragon by Steve Herman
Feelings Cards – We’ve got a lot of use out of these cards.