Help Your Children Manage Their Feelings & Behaviour
Children are born with in-built (primary) feelings or emotions which include sadness, anger, joy, fear, shame, surprise, disgust and interest. These usually give rise to other, secondary emotions; for example: anger could give rise to resentment, and fear, to anxiety.
Emotions and behaviour are closely related because how a child feels at any point in time affects how they behave.
To ensure the well-being and proper development of your kids during childhood and adolescence, we recommend you start early enough to teach them how to recognise, understand and manage their feelings, as well as behave properly.
Read on for tips on how to do this.
How to help your children manage their feelings
So what can you do as a parent to ensure your children’s emotional maturity?
Teach them to name their feelings
Since children experience emotions before they’re able to describe them with words, one way you can help your child understand their feelings is by helping them form a very basic ‘emotional language’ with simple words such as happy, sad, mad, good and bad.
A good place to start is from their own emotions: if, for example, your infant is frowning, you can say, ‘I can see you’re sad, because you’re frowning.’
This will make them recognise whatever feeling they’re having in that moment as ‘sad,’ and also give them the idea that people tend to ‘frown’ when they’re sad.
You can as well give a name to the emotions or feelings they observe in you and in others. If they see you smiling, you can say, ‘I am smiling now because I’m happy.’ That way, whenever they find themselves smiling they’ll recognise what they’re feeling as ‘happy.’
As your child grows you can start introducing more refined words such as anxious, disappointed, excited and frustrated. Continuously labelling emotions like this will help your children gradually develop a language for them.
Draw attention to what causes/triggers an emotion
Guiding your child to understand why they’re feeling whatever they’re feeling at a particular moment is another way of helping them manage feelings.
When you see your older child looking frustrated for example, encourage them to really think about, and also talk about what is making them feel so. Ask questions. The ability to identify and clearly explain the cause of their feelings makes children more emotionally mature.
Assure them it’s normal to have bad feelings
At an early stage children need to understand that they sometimes may not have any control over some of the emotions they experience daily, and that it’s okay to have negative feelings like anger, but what matters is how they express such feelings.
So let your kids know its fine to feel angry or frustrated, but not okay to express this feeling by, say, breaking their toy.
Teach them simple coping strategies
There are simple things children can learn to do in order to stay in control when they’re experiencing strong feelings.
You can teach your child to:
- think of good experiences they’ve had in the past when they’re feeling bad, as this will help them get over their sadness;
- take deep breaths when they’re feeling really angry;
- ask for a hug when they’re feeling scared or worried;
- dance or clap their hands when they’re excited; and,
- if possible, avoid or remove themselves from situations that trigger unpleasant feelings.
Support them emotionally
Sometimes when a child is struggling through an emotion, all that is required to help them overcome that is a show of affection and understanding.
So, hugging your children, kissing them on the cheek or forehead, and assuring them you know what they’re going through, may just be what they need to be able to manage a negative feeling.
How to help your children manage their behaviour
When a child has developed the ability to understand and manage their feelings, it becomes easier for them to manage how they behave as well. Here are some tips to teach your children proper behaviour.
Know when to instruct or request
Instructions and requests are both ways of getting your child to do something or behave in a certain way, but when should you use which?
Use instructions when it’s something they have to do, for example when it concerns their safety: ‘Don’t stand on the chair.’
Sometimes children can be naughty and may not want to follow instructions, especially if they’re in a bad mood. In such cases, ensure they obey by being firm but gentle. Make them understand that being in a bad mood is no reason to disobey instructions.
When you want to give them choices or a sense of control, use requests: ‘Will you help me water the plants?’
Learning to follow instructions is key to proper behavior; and requests tend to make children more cooperative.
Use distraction to encourage positive behaviour
Distraction in this case involves redirecting your child’s attention from something unpleasant to something pleasant.
When they’re idle, bored or frustrated, children may get cranky and want to behave in challenging ways. To prevent such, try to shift their attention to something funny, interesting or engaging.
You can make funny faces, sing a song or rhyme, give them a toy, suggest a game to play, give them a snack, or take them for a walk.
With time they may start creating distractions for themselves instead of engaging in challenging behaviours.
Teach new skills
When you frequently teach your children new skills, especially in their areas of interest, it helps to keep them engaged, and makes them less likely to behave in negative ways.
These skills can be in any area – self-care, home care, music, arts, etc. – and you can teach them by providing step-by-step guidance, giving instructions, or modelling.
As they learn new skills, your children will also become more self-confident, independent, and better at regulating their behaviour.
Self-control is one important skill young children need to develop in order to manage their behaviour successfully.
If, for example, your child understands that instead of reacting instantly to provocation, or speaking when they’re angry, it’s better to restrain themselves by taking deep breaths and counting to ten first, they’ll grow to be more cool-headed, and likely to handle conflict situations better.
Give positive attention
Children thrive on validation and positive attention from adults, therefore when yours behave well be sure to praise, reward, or encourage them. And do so as often as possible.
This won’t only make them feel loved, but will also make them less prone to negative behaviour because a child who realizes that good behaviour always attracts positive attention or rewards will find it hard to deliberately act in ways that will attract disapproval.