Embracing emotions

Embracing all your child’s emotions – even more dramatic ones

Feeling our Emotions

From The Secure Child set of talks and materials

From birth your child is experiencing and expressing their emotions. They will be showing anger and outrage at being allowed to feel hunger. And moments later, joy and happiness as they nuzzle into your warmth gazing up into your smiling face.  The need for embracing all your child’s emotions is then a way of life – even the more dramatic ones.

Despite being remarkably good at feeling their emotions, children are less equipped to manage them. 

This work does not really begin until the toddler years when they start to develop a stable sense of themselves. As they begin to see themselves as separate to you, they seek to find their own place in the world. And this comes with some strong ideas about what it is that they want. 

This new sense of self also means that they are beginning to feel some new, self-conscious emotions. Feeling emotions such as pride and embarrassment for the first time.  These toddler years see some of the most pronounced periods of development and growth. Not seen again until their teenage years, when the emotional outbursts of our overwhelmed toddlers are often revisited.

As your child gets older, they begin to move away from relying on you to balance their emotional state. Instead, they begin looking towards their peers. As they do so, they learn to manage their emotions and solve their own problems. 

By the time they are 4 or 5 years old, their emotions are becoming more developed. 

They can now experience mixed emotions, such as being angry and sad at the same time. And they are beginning to use their emotions as unconscious defence mechanisms.  Along with this maturity comes the ability to have simple conversations about their feelings. And with guidance, they can learn alternative coping methods when a situation causes their emotions to rise.

By the time they are ready for school, your child will be able to think about and discuss their emotions in increasingly sophisticated ways.  This allows them to use cognitive coping strategies, such as distraction or self-talk. They can learn to think through their emotions and calm themselves. But this also means they are becoming better at hiding their feelings. 

Whilst this can be a good thing within a social interaction, it also means you may need to look more closely at their behaviours to see the emotions that they are masking.

The emotions we feel have a great impact on the way we perceive our environment. And how we interpret the events of our day. 

Starting the day feeling anxious can soon feel like everything is going against you, with knock on effects until bedtime. 

Not only do our emotions deeply affect our outlook, but they also translate to those around us. Especially our children who are looking to us to offer a sense of emotional direction. And to offer a calming rudder to their less mature, often fraught emotions. 

If you are feeling frustrated when your child needs you, you may model being short tempered and dismissive. This informs not only your child’s behaviours and emotions, but also their developing methods of managing them.  Emotions are then a part of life. And embracing all your child’s emotions is a key part of nurturing their healthy growth and development – even the more dramatic ones.

If we can focus on the positives around us, we can embrace a happy, emotional disposition. And feelings of happiness can be constructively reinforced.  With your child responding to all the emotions they see and feel around them, this is worth actively considering.

Dr Kathryn Peckham is an Early Childhood Consultant, author and researcher and the founder of Nurturing Childhoods.  Providing all the knowledge, understanding and support you need to nurture your growing child.   www.nurturingchildhoods.co.uk


Don’t miss:

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Can you help your child to establish a greater emotional intelligence?

Have you conditioned your child to feel certain ways?