The power of self-expression: How we can help our kids own their feelings
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimised by your toddler’s tantrum. Yep, we’ve all been there.
Your lovely little toddler is really good at making you smile with their sweet kisses and the cuteness of their sweet laughter. Unfortunately, toddlers are not just all roses. They are really bad at controlling their feelings. And by really bad I mean the sound of a grocery store meltdown over the wrong brand of cereal, or high pitch screaming because you gave them the wrong colour sippy cup. And talking about big feelings, there’s nothing quite like a tiny human screaming “ME NO LIKE THIS SHIRT” in the middle of Target.
Young kids suck at expressing their emotions in a calm and collected manner. And the constant screaming threats are enough to make us want to scream together with them. I know how tempting it is to just throw our own tantrum in response (maybe rolling on the ground together?), but there’s a better way.
We need to teach our little ones to own their feelings, so that we can maybe avoid the next grocery store meltdown and help them get a head start in the development of their emotional intelligence.
As Gen Muir from Connected Parenting explains, “I am yet to meet a parent that feels amazing when their child is having a huge meltdown or struggling to share. But the evidence is clear that the best way to build resilience, compassion, kindness for our children is to show them that they are welcome to come to us when they are happy and when they are sad. That all emotions are healthy.”
Now, you are probably thinking, “But my kid is only a toddler, how can they possibly own their feelings?” Well, that’s a fair question. While your little one might not be able to articulate their emotions with words just yet, there are still tools to help them express themselves in healthy ways. The power of self-expression is real, and it should start early.
Model emotional intelligence
Kids learn by watching us, so it’s important to show them how you express yourself. Let’s say you’re feeling frustrated because your toddler has spilled their juice all over the carpet. Instead of losing your cool and yelling, take a deep breath and say something like, “Mummy is feeling a little upset because it’s going to take time and effort to clean this up.” By doing this, you’re showing your child that it’s okay to have emotions, being upset is fine. But there are ways to express them without screaming and crying.
Give your child the words
It can be tough for little ones to articulate how they are feeling, especially when they’re feeling overwhelmed (because you didn‘t let them play with the stove, how dare you!). One effective strategy is to help them is to give them the words to express their feelings.
Let your toddler calm down first, though. Because there’s absolutely no way you can get through an angry toddler in the middle of a full blown tantrum.
Let me give you an example. If your little one is crying because they don’t want to leave the playground, you could tell them you will wait for them to finish crying first. And then say, “It looks like you’re feeling sad because you don’t want to go home yet. It must be really hard to leave when it is so much fun at the playground.” By doing this, you’re helping your toddler build a vocabulary for their emotions and giving them a way to communicate how they feel. You are also showing them that you care and understand their feelings.
Encourage self-expression through play
Play is such a fantastic way for kids to explore their emotions in a safe and fun way. And you get to teach it to them daily, while having fun at the same time!
Try to get creative during playtime together. You could do something really fun like set up a tea party with your child’s stuffed animals and ask them how each toy is feeling. Maybe Teddy Bear is happy because he got a new bow tie, but Bunny is feeling left out because no one is paying attention to her.
Gen says, “One of the best ways to allow kids to ‘practice’ emotions in a safe way is through play. We know that even when building a LEGO Duplo set that a tower may fall or things may not go as planned. This is an opportunity for parents to coach and support kids in feeling these feelings in a safe way.”
Choosing toys with facial expressions on them is a great option for encouraging this. Try asking questions about how each one is feeling, and think of some examples of how we may also feel the same way in certain situations.
The LEGO® DUPLO® Organic Garden set has cute insects and vegetables with little faces so you can have fun building while exploring different “emotions”.
By doing this, you’re helping your child develop empathy and giving them a space to explore their own emotions.
“Additionally,” says Gen, “When kids play often everyone wants the one LEGO brick at once, and this is an opportunity for our little ones to learn all about conflict and negotiation. All of this can build up their ability for self-expression long term.”
Inject some humour
As difficult as it may sound, don’t forget to have fun when dealing with your toddler’s emotional outbursts. Laughter is a powerful tool for diffusing tense situations and helping young kids regulate their emotions. But HOW is that fun? Well, if your child is really upset because they can’t find their favourite toy, you could pretend to be a detective and help them solve the case. Maybe the toy is hiding under the couch, or maybe it’s gone on a secret mission to space. Not only can you show your child that emotions don’t always have to be serious, you are also showing them that it’s totally okay to have fun, even when you’re feeling upset .
The LEGO DUPLO Fruit and Vegetable Tractor set is a really fun option here as you can encourage your child to have fun coming up with interactions for the farmer to have with the fruits and vegetables to express how they are feeling. Or you could even use the vegetables to “talk” to the farmer about what’s upsetting them (maybe they don’t want to be harvested!) as a way of demonstrating how people can effectively communicate their feelings.
Helping our kids own their feelings is a really important part of parenting. It is important to create a safe and supportive environment for our little ones to grow and thrive.
So, the next time your toddler is screaming at you because of some terrible terrible reason (like giving them exactly what they asked for), take a deep breath and remember – you’ve got this.
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