When birthdays come around, birthday gifts are given to the birthday child and others are jealous. When a pet dies, children grieve. When a play date cannot happen, a child is disappointed. When an obstacle is faced, bravery is summoned. Children can be joyful, happy or downright elated. When one child has a friend over and the sibling does not, one is happy, but the other is resentful. How can we bring up children and handle all their emotions if we can’t label what emotions they are having? The answer is – we can’t. It is important for all parents to learn a vocabulary of emotion.
When our children have an emotion, part of how they learn to deal with it is learning what it is. When children are in an emotional state they don’t know if it will last forever or go away shortly. A feeling can be negative or positive. Kids may want joyful emotions to last forever. On the other hand, sad emotions feel like they will last forever. In either case, emotions are learning opportunities. To teach about emotion parents need to label it for the child. These are new experiences for them. After a label, a parent can relate an experience with that emotion. “I was disappointed last week when daddy had to work late and we couldn’t go out to dinner. Remember?” This shows the child that you have been there – and survived the emotion. Then the child should be allowed to get over their emotion – to have it, own it and learn how to resolve it. It is not the parent’s job to get the child out of the emotion. The child will only learn to get things by using the emotion another time.
So, how does a parent learn a vocabulary of emotion? Let’s start with these words: Happy, sad, angry, disappointed, depressed, enraged, surprised, embarrassed, scared, brave, aggressive, defensive, elated, lonely, jealous, resentful, frustrated, mourning, sorry, pensive, love, hate, proud. This is a start. Learn these words and what they mean. More importantly, notice when your child experiences the emotion and label it for them. “It seems you are jealous that you didn’t get a present. We all get jealous at times.” Then let your child experience the emotion. I am convinced that we are doing more harm to children by robbing them of their emotional experiences than we would do by labeling the experience and letting them own it. When children grow having emotions and understanding them, they become more stable young adults. If children grow up in families that deny emotion or avoid dealing with emotion, kids become confused by emotion well into adulthood. Take the first step in helping your kids. Label their emotion and show some understanding of it- they will thank you when they become a mature adult.