Communication and Emotions
It can be tough talking about emotions. Even parents who place a high value on emotions may find themselves using “I think” statements rather than “I feel” statements. Talking openly about emotions is important and forms part of the basis of positive family communication. Use some of the following tips to help your family successfully talk about emotions.
- Sometimes the best way to continue a conversation is simply to acknowledge your child’s feelings. Saying things like “I can see that you’re concerned with what your friends think” lets your child know that you understand what he’s going through and that it’s okay to share those feelings.
- Remind young children that everyone has feelings and that all feelings are normal. Talk about appropriate ways to express feelings, and introduce new emotion labels (sometimes “anger” really means “frustration”).
- Teach your kids the importance of expressing emotions in respectful ways—for example, if your child gets angry, it may be best to take a few minutes to cool off before saying anything. Think about how you’d like your children to express their emotions, and set a good example of this in your home.
- Make sure your kids know that you’re always available to talk. Whether they’re sad, stressed, happy, angry, frustrated, or feeling any other emotion, you’ll always be willing to talk about it and help them deal with it. Kids can forget this sometimes, so don’t hesitate to remind them every once in a while.
- Understand that your preteen or young teenager may begin to express his or her emotions in inappropriate ways again, as puberty brings on a rush of new emotions. It can be overwhelming, so stay calm and remind your child of appropriate ways to express her or his emotions.
- Your children learn from what you do as well as what you say, so if you have an argument with your child, make sure to model appropriate actions, such as taking time to think about the issue, using a respectful voice and tone, and not interrupting.
Part of teaching your kids how to appropriately express their emotions is to appropriately express your own. It’s important to set good examples for your kids, no matter their age, so they understand that everyone deals with emotions and is expected to handle them in appropriate ways.
- Share your own emotions—whether you’re excited for an upcoming family gathering, angry because of something that happened at work, or proud of your kids for doing well in school, let your kids know how you’re feeling.
- Choose your words carefully. For example, if your child does something dangerous, instead of asking, “How could you be so irresponsible?,” coach more positively by asking, “What did you learn from this experience?” or “How will you make a safer choice next time?”
- Model complex conflict-resolution skills, such as consensus, collaboration, compromise, and so on.
- If you need a physical release for strong emotions, make sure that you set a positive example by participating in an active sport or other appropriate method for release. Instead of storming off without speaking, describe your strategy by saying, “I’m so angry right now that I need to cool off. I’m going for a walk around the block to get rid of some of this tension so I can communicate more calmly when I get back.”
- Remember that your children are always watching and learning—if you catch yourself expressing your emotions in inappropriate ways in front of your children, make a point to bring it up. Let your kids know that you made a mistake and that you’ll try to do better in the future.
Talking about emotions is tough—there’s no getting around it. But it’s required for effective family communication and, once you start practicing it, you’ll find that it helps your deal with any of the emotions that you or your children are dealing with. So don’t avoid talking about how you feel—make an effort to be open with your emotions, and encourage your kids to do the same.