Help Kids Manage Emotions
Television commercials shown during annual sports events are meant to evoke emotions. Feelings help fuel our decisions to buy. Babies and puppies promote warm and fuzzy feelings. Humorous commercials stir up laughter. Brave soldier commercials move us to tears. Emotions are powerful motivators for children, adolescents, and adults. An essential life lesson is learning to manage emotions in our relationships.
Being human means we possess a gamut of emotions; it’s part of our hardware. Feelings are not good or bad, but neutral. We need emotions for passionate living. However, emotions out of balance can trigger hurtful words, rowdy reactions, and disrupting behaviors. And sometimes feelings can be fickle, but emotions are not the enemy. Feelings are messengers that desire our internal issues.
Where are emotions produced? The Limbic System, an area in the brain, houses emotions. The exact spot is called the Amygdala, an almond-shaped area. Saying, “I love you with all of my heart” needs to be changed to “I love you with all of my brain.” Emotions are not in your heart—the heart pumps blood.
Children are fascinated with the brain models I have in my play therapy room. Our brains are in charge of thinking and feeling and our bodies are in charge of doing and responding. I teach children to identify, label, and express their feelings appropriately instead of screaming, hitting, biting, and throwing toys. Raging outbursts, excessive crying, and intense emotional reactions serve a purpose and I help parents and kids explore and examine thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. And make changes.
Emotions show up in the body. An angry child may clench teeth, squeeze hands into fists, and posture the body taller. A sad child may hunch the body over, push out the lower lip, or lay the head down. Feelings and physiology are partners in the dance.
Helping, teaching, and role-modeling human emotions begin at birth. Children are born with the innate ability to cry so caretakers will feed them and provide love and attention. Without emotions human beings would be robotic. As children grow they observe and imitate emotional responses of adults. Lots of Feelings, a picture book, by Shelley Rotner shows photographs of kids and helps children to identify feelings on faces.
Teenagers can learn to manage feelings and tame tongues because the brain is in charge. Nobody grabs your tongue and makes you scream at others. Nobody pinches your tongue and makes you cuss. Nobody makes you say unkind words to others. Your tongue is attached to your brain. Who owns your tongue? You are the manager of your emotional actions and reactions. Develop a plan to monitor feelings. Keep a daily record of your emotions and behaviors for one week. Write down what happened before, during, and after emotional situations. Explore and examine your feelings and responses. Develop an approach to be a self-manager. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to make changes. Feelings come and go and ebb and flow. Feelings are temporary and can be managed. “This problem will pass and I’ll feel better” and “It’s okay. I can stand it anyway.” These self-talk statements explain that feelings are manageable.
What would humans be like without emotions? Robots. Feelings help us to experience joy and pleasure. With our emotions, we process sadness and pain; frustration and anger; fear and anxiety. An important mental health message is to learn to experience, understand, process, express, and manage our emotions and to help our children do the same.
Dr. Missy, Ph.D., is a feelings helper, child therapist, consultant, educator, and self-syndicated columnist. She provides therapeutic services at Affirmations, Columbus, Ohio. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.