Talking about feelings and emotions isn’t easy. Trying to comprehend why someone may feel a certain way seems like an impossible task. Understanding why you are experiencing an emotion may prove to be even more difficult.
As adults, this is hard to do. For children, it’s even more challenging. Children are still growing and developing and may not understand how to process and talk about their emotions.
Even though many parents may struggle with comprehending their own, and their children’s feelings, Kamaria Holland likes to emphasize one main point in her role as a Wellness Coach and Intervention Specialist with Mental Health America of Wisconsin: It’s okay to not be okay.
“There’s always all these hurdles and obstacles that families are going through,” Holland said. “I just want to help them understand that it’s okay to not be okay.”
Holland works with families who are trying to maintain custody of their child(ren). In most cases, this involves helping parents understand how to talk about and explain the feelings that their child may be experiencing in a way that they can easily understand.
Talking to children about their behaviors and emotions boils down to one key concept: being open and honest in communication. Some topics may be difficult to address without frustration, such as trying to correct an unwanted behavior, but being patient and open makes all the difference. Before doing that, acknowledging that there is a problem is the first step to proper communication.
“I usually explain to families that this doesn’t mean there is something wrong with their child, but they may just need extra time to process things and they may need a little extra support,” Holland explains.
“It comes down to: how can you, as a parent, not get frustrated, and how can I, as a service provider, work to come up with a plan that helps you as a parent give your child the help they need?”
Holland explains that patience is needed when it comes to redirecting behaviors and explaining feelings. Children are trying their best, and some children need extra time to understand what is going on.
Holland likes to use a personal story for how to redirect children in more ways than one. On an outing with a family that has a five-year-old kid, the child began to look upset. Once the parents recognized something was upsetting their child, they paid extra attention to his nonverbal cues – his face, posture and behavior -- before crouching down to his level and asking what was wrong. When the child didn’t explain at first, they encouraged him to use his words.
When the child became more upset, Holland stepped in and modeled the next steps by trying different tactics to calm the child. Holland explains that if none of these tactics work, then the next best step is for the family to take a breath then find somewhere private away from the current situation. Once the family feels their patience is reset, then Holland encourages parents to start again, watching for cues and encouraging the child to use their words.
Holland openly communicates with her 12-year-old son about emotion and feelings, and the two now have a strong bond where they can rely on each other. If she notices that something is wrong with her son, asking the usual question of ‘What’s wrong?’ doesn’t make any progress in the situation. Instead, more probing questions such as: ‘What made you happy today?’, ‘What made you mad today?’, ‘What did your teachers talk about today?’ or ‘What did your friends say to you today?’ are likely to help a child open up about how they are feeling.
Even when situations are difficult, open communication and patience can make it easier for both parents and children.
“Being honest with your kids lets them know when things are wrong and how that can be corrected,” Holland said. “They pick up on things and can sense when something is wrong. The same thing doesn’t work for everybody, so it may take some time to give the child the help they need.”
All parents need support:
Mindfulness & Deep breathing:
- https://sesamestreetincommunities.org/ activities/breathe-think-do/
Ways to Calm Your Child:
Supporting healthy social-emotional development in kids: