Parenting Thoughts: Can We Teach Emotions

Recently, Buddy has started “expressing his emotions” more freely…aka throwing a few tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.  We have been very lucky in that they are generally pretty mild, rarely in public, and we can (usually) see them coming and are able to employ a few strategies (premacking and using countdowns are my favorites with Buddy) to distract him from whatever is about to cause a tantrum…yes I know I need to go knock on every wooden object in sight to save myself from what is now going to come. 🙂

What I have noticed in the past few weeks as these “expressions” have evolved, is that Buddy is able to talk to me while he is experiencing this and he almost always says “I’m really sad Mommy.” (Talk about tugging at the heart strings!)  I know I have asked him if he was feeling sad in the past, but I didn’t realize how quickly these little guys pick up on what that means and are able to express those feelings…fairly accurately.  (We’ve also worked a little on identifying when he’s actually feeling tired, hungry, or just generally cranky instead of using “sad” for every negative emotional response.)  When I thought about all this a little more, I wondered why he seemed to pick up on being sad first.  Buddy spends MUCH more time in a happy state than in a sad state.  Was it because being and feeling sad (whether it’s over a broken toy, not wanting to take a bath, or his favorite show being over) has a greater impact on him or could it be that we as adults are more likely to be discussing/talking openly about feelings (and often times in front of our kids) when they are related to sadness, anger, or frustration?  Not to mention all the times I’ve caught myself doing the “It makes Mommy sad when you…” routine.  I really need to stop using that line.  I’m thinking it is probably a combination of the two, but there’s not as much that I can do to lessen the impact being sad would have on him, is there?  (Besides being a supportive mother, of course.)  However, I CAN take a step back and pay closer attention to what I am exposing him to in regards to my own expression of feelings.

Think about it…when was the last time you asked someone if they were ok?  Why did you ask that?  Chances are something was wrong or it looked like something was wrong.  That person’s response (if you didn’t get the generic “I’m fine”) likely reflected that they were sad, angry, frustrated or experiencing some other negative emotion.  Furthermore, I’m willing to bet they elaborated a least a little to “vent” or “get it off their chest.”  It’s human nature.  We all do it.  And, unfortunately, it seems to be much more common that we will talk openly about these negative emotions and vent.  When we are “ok” we all too often just stick to that…”I’m ok”…rather than elaborating or identifying our emotions further.  Just an observation.  (I do hear Buddy say “I’m ok Mommy!” a lot when I ask if he’s ok if he is sounding frustrated, starting to whine, etc. so I know he’s hearing it from us.)

Now think again, when is the last time you talked about feeling happy, elated, excited, or cheery and labeled that emotion out loud?  How about in front of your child?  I find that Hubby and I often talk about the good parts of our days…often times involving things Buddy did or said and how happy we were…AFTER Buddy has gone to bed.  He misses out on a lot of that exposure.  I’m not saying he doesn’t see us being happy, but rather, we aren’t identifying happiness to him often enough.

Maybe I’m thinking too much into all this “feelings” stuff but I think it’s only natural to question these things and have a deep desire for our kids to be happy…and for them to know what that means!!

So how do we make this happen people??  I’ve started making a conscious effort to talk to Buddy about how he feels when he is obviously in a positive mood.  “You look so happy! It must make you feel so good to run and climb on the playground!” “You did it!  You hammered that (plastic) nail in (your plastic workbench) all by yourself!  You must feel so proud!” I have also worked on changing my “It makes Mommy sad when you…” routine into a “Oh that makes Mommy so happy when you…” routine.  It’s a little unnatural at first but I tell you what…it only took a couple days for us to start hearing him say “I’m so happy Mommy!”  And what a great feeling that was!  I guess when it comes down to it, it’s all about teaching your kids in a balanced way.  There are two sides to everything and we have to teach and learn the good with the bad.

Is anyone else out there experiencing things like this with their kids?  What have you had success using?

One thought on “Parenting Thoughts: Can We Teach Emotions

  1. I adopted this practice of talking about my feelings while teaching a few years back so it made sense to try it with my kids. I’ve also tried (and this is SOOO hard) to point out my body language (e.g., Do you see how Mommy’s eyebrows are pointed and her mouth is small? That means she is angry and you should stop laughing.) I really like your point about making more of an effort to do it with positive emotions. I think we could all use a little more sunshine in any day!

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