Emotions and feelings in children

Even though their meanings are commonly interchanged, emotions and feelings are not quite the same. Emotions are physiological states and they come from the subconscious, so a person can have an emotion without having a feeling. On the contrary, feelings are subjective. They are the product of conscious thoughts, and they are tied to emotions, which means that a person cannot have a feeling without an emotion first. Even though these concepts are a bit complex, it’s good to have a better understanding of them before talking about emotions with children.

Emotions play an important role in the development of children’s social and emotional skills. They also have a great influence on their mental health, self-confidence, and self-esteem. There are many outside factors that can influence a young child’s emotions, like caregivers, parents, close family, nannies, and even teachers. These relationships help children mold their personalities.

Children as young as three years old start showing more about their feelings and emotions. This is the perfect time to start paying attention more closely to help them figure out what they feel and how to respond to those emotions.

Why do feelings and emotions matter

Understand their own feelings and emotions is essential for the little ones. Children who learn how to identify their emotions are more capable of dealing with their own feelings. This is the start of the development of emotional competence. This means that the child is able to express appropriately the feelings and emotions he or she has, without taking anything out of context or overreacting.

In addition, a child who develops emotional competence is more likely to be empathic. Empathy is the ability to understand and identify the feelings that other people might be experiencing, and to relate to them as if they were one’s own. A child who is emphatic will have better social and emotional relationships throughout their life.

More importantly, children who don’t know how to deal with their emotions might have behavioral problems in the future, and they are also more prone to suffer from anxiety and depression.

Learning how to identify, express and manage emotions

Learning to identify and express emotions is not an easy task. It requires dedication from parents, caregivers, and teachers, but the results are completely worth it. To help your little one on his or her quest to learn more about their emotions, follow these few pointers:

- Encourage an open talk about their emotions and feelings. This can be done by showing them how you feel in different situations and the reactions that you usually have to said feelings. This way, your little one will start making connections about the situations you’re describing and the emotions that are related to them, and it will normalize whatever emotions they might experience.

- Make sure to model effective ways to manage your child’s feelings and emotions. It could be by doing exercise, which releases chemicals that make a person feel better; or by practicing being kind, which is always rewarding. Keep in mind that doing crafts, or playing games, might not always be what a child wants to do when in distress, but it’s a good idea to eventually redirect those negative feelings and turn them into something productive.

- Be a good role model for your little one. Always remember that kids tend to learn more by actions than by lectures, so it’s important to give a good example and not only give advice on how to handle emotions. Also, always be caring and supportive. Children appreciate more when parents are there for them without judging, and in the long run, they will be more eager to share what they are going through.

- Take the time to understand the reason behind your child’s behavior. If your child is showing signs of distress, there must be a reason for it. It’s a good thing to always listen to what he or she has to say to find the better solution to their problem. Don’t hesitate to dig deeper, but always have in mind your child’s privacy and respect those times when he or she doesn’t feel quite ready to talk.

- Encourage expressing emotions in a healthy way, like cooking the favorite meal for someone you love, or to make a beautiful craft to someone’s birthday.

- Read stories and children’s books about feelings. Children love books, and these sometimes can be the perfect way to introduce more complex knowledge that they need to know.

- Use names to define feelings, so they learn how to identify them correctly. If a child knows the name of those feelings he or she is having, then it will be easier to communicate his or her thoughts about them.

- Validate your child’s feelings, is always good when a child feels that his or her emotions and feelings are being acknowledged, and when they feel supported. This opens a good communication channel with your child.

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