From childhood, our parents or main caregivers worry about teaching us to be «better people» by instructing us on how we should eat, how to cross the street, how to dress, how we have to behave, among other demands. Added to this, in our educational stage we go through more demands to become «the best professionals and the most successful», but what about emotions?

How can we become «the best professionals» or «the best people» if we are not able to recognize and regulate our own emotions, to show empathy with ourselves and with others, which will ultimately lead us to be able to lead effectively to a group of people, to develop efficiently in what we do despite the adversities that arise, or to be citizens of the good that they contribute to society?

Emotions are affective states, subjective reactions to the environment that move us inside. They have a physiological origin that manifests itself with changes both physically (body sensations) and psychologically (thoughts, attitudes, beliefs …). They are variable, can appear suddenly and have different degrees of intensity. They are more intense but less lasting than feelings.

Surely it has happened to us that we get home stressed or angry, either because of the traffic or because of some inconvenience that has happened to us at work and all we want is tranquility, eating, doing some leisure activity, etc. But we arrived and found that our children are arguing, or do not want to eat, sleep, order their toys, etc. And, in the face of a minimal situation that we dislike, we let the volcano that we had been accumulating all day erupt, reacting inappropriately and then justifying our actions with the misconduct of others or feeling guilt and wanting to repair our mistake.

How many has it happened to us? How many of us have been able to recognize that we are upset, express it and do something to calm down? How do we expect our children to learn to regulate themselves, not to throw tantrums, to express what they feel appropriately if we often do not do it ourselves? Let us remember that we are the main reference for our children, and, therefore, it is very important not only to educate with the word but also with the example.

That is why it is very important that both we and our children learn to develop an «emotional vocabulary» in order to recognize, express and manage our emotions. Here are some ideas to teach our children to develop their emotional vocabulary:

  1. When conversing with them, we must name our emotion so that they get used to recognizing what they feel and, in this way, expressing it in their daily speech. For example: today at work I felt happy because I did this, I feel annoyed right now because you are not paying attention, this makes me sad.
  1. It is important to recognize, accept and teach that we will not always be happy and ready. It is also valid to feel upset, sad, afraid, disappointed, etc. We must not avoid expressing these emotions and validating them when our children experience them.
  1. Emotions depend on oneself, not on the situation itself. There is no one way to feel about a situation, nor do we experience it with the same intensity, and therefore, not all of us are going to react in the same way. So it is up to us to do something to feel better or to let ourselves be carried away by our emotion. To teach our children this, we can use everyday situations as an example: some people get angry and that is why they start honking their horns, do dangerous maneuvers, etc. Instead, others are simply uncomfortable or annoyed and therefore put on their music to hang out. In the case of younger children, we could give the following example: Imagine that two children take a toy away from a partner. A child is very bothered by it and therefore pushes or starts; instead, another child bothers him and goes to tell the teacher that his partner took the toy from him. In this case, what was different? The intensity in which we feel the emotion and our way of reacting to the situation. We also recommend bringing these questions to reflection. Will they have the same consequences? The child who went to ask the teacher for help, what will he achieve?

At home, we can use a very useful strategy called the «emotion thermometer» so that children have a visual reference of the different intensities of emotions, how we react to them and their consequences. To this we can also include strategies to calm down when we are feeling anger, anxiety, fear … and not react in an inappropriate way.

Here is an example of the thermometer: «My parents tell me that I must tidy up my room»

This example allows us to clearly see how emotions determine reactions to certain situations (inappropriate and even overflowing behaviors), as well as the consequences of these reactions. If we make our children aware of this, they can probably better manage their emotions so that the consequences of their reactions are positive. We invite you to develop this thermometer with other situations that may arise at home; reflect with your children on the consequences and invite them to determine for themselves the best way to express their emotions: an appropriate reaction will always bring positive consequences.

Generally, the best way to face a situation that could produce an overflowing emotion in our children is to stay calm. This will allow reflection, reaching agreements, understanding the situation, etc. But, if we see that our son feels a lot of euphoria, anger or discomfort, it is better to calm down before talking to him. For this we recommend some strategies:

– Take guided breaths until I feel better.

– Paint

– Perform a meditation

– Perform yoga exercises

Now, to reflect with our children, help them understand their emotions and come to understand why they react in one way or another, it is necessary to identify the needs that are at the base of that emotion. To do this, when they are calm, we can ask them why do you want / don’t want to do this? What has bothered you? If you do / don’t do this, what do you achieve and how do you feel?

Once the need is identified, let’s focus on this for reflection (and forget the inappropriate reaction). Together, let us try to find solutions and alternatives that help satisfy that need without having to reach overflowing behaviors.

Some examples:

  • The child does not want to go to bed early. Every time he is asked, he reacts by screaming and crying. Possible need: spend time with their parents at night because during the day they have been working (even if online at home). Possible solution: spend certain times of the day doing activities together.
  • Your child does not want to sit down to work in online classes. When he is insisted, he gets upset, he goes to his room and it is impossible to convince him. Possible need: be comfortable and uninterrupted to work. Possible solution: allocate one or two hours a day for the child to work in an environment without interruptions having only one computer.

Llenas, Anna. (2016). Diario de las emociones. Editorial Paidos.

Kiara Lelkes – 1st grade Nursery Psychologist