My Child Doesn't Communicate Their Emotions: What to Do
Just like you, emotions surround your child every day. They feel happy when they win a tournament, sad when a toy breaks, angry when they don’t get to participate in a game, and bored when they have no one to spend time with. However, these emotions are often contained and don’t come to the surface for a variety of reasons. So, what we can do when a child doesn’t communicate their emotions?
Perhaps some emotions are easier to externalize, such as joy, but others aren’t so easy to express. As adults, we can sense when something’s going on with our children, but we don’t always know how to help them. Or, when we try to do so, we hit a wall. Keep reading to find out what you can do.
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How to help my child communicate their emotions
Sometimes, we’re not aware that some of the messages we transmit to them disable the expression of emotions. For example, it’s common to hear parents say things like “it’s not that big of a deal” or “don’t cry, you’re a big boy”, among other trite phrases. Although our ultimate intention isn’t to placate them but to comfort them, what we end up communicating to them is that there’s only room for positive emotions.
Also, we must know that we’re the main reference that children have when it comes to managing what they experience inside; we’re the ones they imitate and from whom they learn how to behave.
The social and cultural context in which we operate also triggers certain messages regarding what’s right and wrong about the way we feel. No one feels comfortable crying in public, but we have no problem laughing out loud. However, we must be careful to teach children that there are no right or wrong emotions. What can be qualified in such a way is behavior, that is, the way in which we express our feelings and how we address others.
At the same time, we need to recognize that not all children are the same. Each one has their own style and we must accompany them in a particular way. There are children who use a whirlwind of words and gestures to express what’s happening to them, while others need a “push” to start communicating what they’re feeling.
Knowing the child we have in front of us is key to being able to better orient our strategies. Of course, age is also a determining factor, as children learn to name, identify, and integrate their emotions little by little. Along the way, adults are the best references.
Keys to helping your child communicate their emotions
In addition to empathizing with your children and trying to understand how they feel, there are some recommendations to help them express their emotions.
1. Use questions that are experienced as a way around certain situations.
For example, how was your day? What was your favorite moment of the day? This way, the child will be able to tell you what they want when they want to.
Also, we can generate a conversation by sharing things that happen to us and asking our children “Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever felt that way? This will encourage them to look inside their emotions and practice the exercise of externalizing them.
For example, “There are days when I don’t want to talk to my coworkers because I feel angry, has this ever happened to you?”
2. Help your child identify the bodily or physical sensations of their emotions
This may also make it easier for them to recognize their feelings. You can break the ice and say something like this: “When I get angry, my face feels really hot. Or again, “When I’m nervous, I feel a lump in my throat. Does that happen to you, too? What do you feel?”
3. Give them time, listen to them, and learn to contain yourself
Many times, we want to give our little ones the solutions or magic recipes, which have little to do with what they really need. It’s more about keeping them from suffering instead of allowing them to learn to recognize how they feel and guiding them to find a solution themselves.
So, when you notice that your child isn’t completely well, listen to what they have to say and let them do it.
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4. Seek to implement these recommendations in an attractive way
Things like games, stories, and movies are very useful resources to achieve this goal, as they allow children to talk about emotions through the characters. We can even be the ones to initiate the conversation: “Did you notice how the main character reacted when this happened to him?”
Validating emotions: The path to strong self-esteem
When we hear about the importance of expressing emotions from infancy, there’s actually much more to it than providing the space for crying or laughing.
It’s about allowing children to be who they are, validating how they feel and how they live their experiences, and developing the ability to learn about themselves and to be empowered in the face of adversity.
Undoubtedly, this is the platform on which good self-esteem and a better quality of life are built. It allows children to learn to be authentic and not have to pretend to be a character that doesn’t exist.
The cost of repressing emotions is very high. In addition to anxiety and anguish, it prevents us from self-knowledge, leaves us locked in rigid and dysfunctional responses, and leads us to ignore the most important role of emotions: Showing our authentic selves.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Heras Sevilla, Davinia , & Cepa Serrano, Amaya , & Lara Ortega, Fernando (2016). DESARROLLO EMOCIONAL EN LA INFANCIA. UN ESTUDIO SOBRE LAS COMPETENCIAS EMOCIONALES DE NIÑOS Y NIÑAS. International Journal of Developmental and Educational Psychology, 1(1),67-73.[fecha de Consulta 25 de Abril de 2022]. ISSN: 0214-9877. Disponible en: https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=349851776008
- Seitun, Maritchu (2013), Capacitación emocional para la familia, Grijalbo.