Let’s Talk About Children's Feelings
Updated: Nov 29, 2018
By Hanna Lampi, Occupational Therapist,
What is a feeling? Or an emotion? Just pause for a second and imagine a four-year-old is asking you this question. How would you answer?
As parents we are in a key position to give our children tools to understand and cope with feelings. These abilities start to grow from the minute our children are born (or actually already before that, but let’s not get overwhelmed). When our precious babies are born, we start a journey to understand their messages and act accordingly. “Oh, you are not feeling good, you must be hungry,” or “Oh, your diaper is wet, let’s get changed,” and “Now it is time for a nap, you look tired,” and so on. We are creating patterns that are somewhat predictable and have kind of a rhythm.
Our voices are filled with emotions and we have a melodic tune in our speech that we may refer to as motherese or fatherese. Research has shown that babies prefer this exaggerated “baby talk” over the typical adult-like speech (Cooper & Aslin, 1990). Our facial expressions are animated and attuned to mimic and mirror our baby’s initiatives. In the weeks that follow, we start to get more and more responses from the baby and moments of shared attention are created. The joy of the first smile is invaluable.
Then there are times that we struggle to get the message, misinterpret or miss an opportunity to respond accordingly, or we ourselves are unregulated and thus unable to sooth and regulate others. We might wonder: Am I a bad parent? Is this harming my children? Here is the good news: ruptures in interactions are a must! The messiness of human interaction is of a purpose. We need brakes and ruptures in social interaction and this is natural. There are disagreements, misunderstandings and interruptions in every relationship. In parenting, it is important that after a rupture there is a repair. You as a parent help your child to engage again, maybe by shifting your approach to meet his needs and interest, or by focusing together on something new. Sometimes you might need time to compose yourself first before reconnecting.
There is a lot that we do every day to give our kids tools and resources to grow emotionally capable adults. Most of it is almost unconscious and mundane commonplace life. But if you are wondering what is it that you do, or could do, here are some tips:
Take time at least once a day in a mist of an everyday chores to really pay attention to your interaction with your child, not just words but gestures and tone too. Try to attune them to your child’s current mood.
Talk out loud about your own feelings and thoughts. This will give your child a window to what others might think of a situation.
Read to your child. This is an effective way to improve your child's cognition and socio-emotional development (Murray et al., 2016).
Touch your children, give them hugs, give them kisses them at bedtime, hold them in your arms both in good and sad moments. Soothing touch reduces stress which has a positive impact on brain development (Mäkelä 2005).
Take care of yourself! Try to find time for self-care. Your well-being is a key to your child’s emotional stability.
Hanna Lampi is an Occupational Therapist, Certified Theraplay Therapist- Supervisor/Trainer, Family Therapist from Espoo, Finland. In her practice she provides Occupational Therapy services, Theraplay, Family Therapy, Nurture&Play intervention, supervision and training in Theraplay and N&P. She is also an author of A Day In the Life of Nea -a children's book about feelings (2018).
Cooper R, Aslin R (1990) Preference for Infant‐directed Speech in the First Month after Birth. Child Development October, 1584-1595
Makela, J. (2005). The Importance of Touch in the Development of Children. Finnish Medical Journal, 60,1543–9
Murray L et al (2016) Randomized controlled trial of a book‐sharing intervention in a deprived South African community: effects on carer–infant interactions, and their relation to infant cognitive and socioemotional outcome. Journal of Child psychology and psychiatry 57, 1370-1379