It is so important to teach children at a young age that they are entitled to have feelings; even feelings of anger and sadness. Once children feel that they are allowed to have feelings, it is necessary for them to learn how to verbalize these feelings. Useful tips on how to teach children how to verbalize their feelings can be found in this previously posted article: “Expressing Your Feelings – A Useful Skill for All Ages (https://healingllc.com/2019/12/expressing-your-feelings-a-useful-skill-for-all-ages/)
After children have learned to verbalize their feelings, they will likely need other ways to actually cope with the feelings. Often children don’t know how to act when they are angry or sad and can become ashamed of their behavior in response to their feelings. A child may become physically aggressive when they are angry and it is important to teach safe ways of expression. A child who is feeling sad may be fighting back tears, when crying may be appropriate to the situation.
Taking some time to themselves (or with a favorite stuffed animal or hug from a trusted parent) may be a healthy way to manage their emotions.
It also may be helpful to take some deep breaths.
Knowing that they have a supportive adult with whom they can talk is another tool they can use when the desire to express their feelings arises. Talking them through with this person can be extremely helpful.
They may also find it helpful to write about their feelings.
They may need some prompts to choose and implement an effective coping strategy. Also, what works for one child may not work for every child so there can be a bit of trial and error throughout the process of finding effective coping strategies.
As a parent or other supportive adult in a child’s life, it is so important to validate your child’s feelings. Validation communicates to another person that you are listening and taking them seriously and that their feelings, thoughts and actions are understandable given the situation. Validation does not necessarily mean that you like or agree with what the other person is doing, saying or feeling. You want to recognize and acknowledge how they are feeling. You are not saying you agree with how they are feeling, you are saying that they are entitled to how they are feeling. By telling your child that they should not be sad when they in fact are sad, you are disregarding their feelings. You are telling them that it is not okay to feel a certain way.
Validating can be as simple as repeating or paraphrasing what they have just told you. If your child says “I was sad when my friend wouldn’t play with me,” you can respond by saying “It sounds like you were really upset by that.” Validating responses are soothing, increase positive emotions, increase self-disclosure, decrease conflict and emotionality and can lead to change. Children and adults alike can practice self-validation as well. This involves acknowledging and accepting your own feelings, thoughts and responses.
If you would like to learn more about effective coping strategies and validation, please contact us at Gaithersburg Counseling Center to see if we can help in any way. You can contact us at (240) 274-5680 or Admin@HealingLLC.com. Or you can visit our website for more information: www.HealingLLC.com
By Sara Rothleder, Director of Operations, Gaithersburg Counseling Center &
Amy Hooper, LCSW-C, CEAP, Director, Gaithersburg Counseling Center