All behavior is a form of communication, though at times you may wish that your child had better ways to let you know he is upset! How your child manages his emotions has an impact on how he copes at home, at school and with his friends. Of course, emotional expression varies with age, context and temperament. You are a model and a facilitator for the development of your child’s expressive skills and here are some tips:

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  • Take daily opportunities to verbalize your emotions about daily experiences with your child i.e. “I was disappointed when …”
  • Verbalize a variety of emotions (happy, frustrated, sad, angry). This lets your child know it is ok to have a variety of emotions
  • Validate and repeat back your child’s emotion so that she feels understood by you
  • Avoid the urge to correct your child’s feelings (“you should not feel mad about that…”). If your child gets any sense that he will get in trouble or be corrected when he shares with you, your child will stop telling you how he feels
  • Begin to talk about the SIZE of emotions i.e. “Were you a little sad about being rained out or sad in a big way?” This helps your child learn about range and variety of emotions”
  • Each day, have each family member share one thing that they were happy about in the day and one thing that was “tricky”. This helps your child to keep a balanced perspective on daily emotional experiences and to avoid feeling like any one event is ‘catastrophic’
  • When your child is having a BIG emotion, avoid the urge to distract them or solve it. You are your child’s co-regulator. Sit in the “puddle” of her emotion with your child and help her to process through it, not avoid it.
  • Help your child learn how to calm his body when he has a BIG emotion i.e. have quiet time, have something to eat, play outside for a while to calm down
  • Discuss how others may feel the same or different in the same situation. This builds the foundation for your child’s ability to understand someone else’s feelings.
  • Facilitate your child to problem solve around her emotions. What are at least 2 possible solutions if she were to be faced with that tricky situation and/or emotion again?
  • Discuss different ways to express emotions in different situations and with different people. Who do you feel safe telling your emotions to? What is the balance between being true to how you feel and not hurting someone else’s feelings?

Originally published in Maui Family Magazine.