By Camryn Cater, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.
Emotional communication is a key component in our lives. It helps us form relationships and make connections with family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers. As children learn to emotionally connect and communicate with others, they are building emotional skillsets that will help them develop relationships for the rest of their lives.
Families with healthy emotional communication practices allow children to develop better coping mechanisms to overcome communication challenges. However, when families unconsciously or consciously dismiss their child’s emotions, they invalidate their child’s needs and thoughts. This parenting practice can lead to children developing less emotional intelligence and pave the way to mental health issues, including increased chances of anxiety, depression, and lack of empathy.
As easy as it is to ignore, downplay, or get frustrated with your child’s emotions, grownups must understand that children have thoughts, dreams, frustrations, and worries that need to be heard. From an adult’s perspective these feelings may seem small, but to a child, they are immense. Talk to your child about their emotions and use the conversation as an opportunity to grow your parent/child relationship.
Grownups can introduce positive emotional communication practices to kids by using emotional language such as “I feel” messages. Using this type of language encourages kids to follow your lead and learn to communicate their needs effectively. Another simple way to introduce emotional communication is through reading books or watching videos with characters who model positive emotional communication. Visuals with scales of emotions can also help your child clearly pinpoint what range of emotion they are feeling when it may be too difficult to describe in words.
Another good way to help kids express themselves is by facilitating dialogue about how certain activities, people, places, foods, etc. make them feel. For example, you could ask your child, “How did it make you feel when you were on stage for your program today?” This type of open-ended question allows time for your child to identify and process their own feelings and opinions. Making this a routine at the end of each day creates a space where your child knows they feel safe and understood.
These simple tasks carried out in your home can ultimately improve your relationship with your child and give you a sense of what you can do to meet your child’s emotional needs. This can boost your child’s mental health, decrease behavioral issues, and promote emotional empathy.