Label the feeling
The more often parents label the emotions they feel (eg. I was so frustrated at work today because I couldn’t fix a problem) and the emotions that a child may seem to feel (eg.You seem disappointed because your play date was cancelled), greater are the chances that children will learn to articulate how they feel. Make emotional vocabulary part of your everyday conversation.
Help them gauge their emotions
Even as adults, we sometimes find some emotions very difficult (eg. jealousy, guilt). If you notice a child is uncomfortable with an emotion, help them gauge how they feel and then help them bring the emotion down to a level where they can regulate it better. For eg. children like visualizations so may want to use the analogy of a feelings bucket. Ask them to imagine a feelings bucket that they carry within themselves. What are the feelings that have been filling their bucket throughout the day? Explain that it is healthy and helpful to empty the bucket regularly, so there is more space for the next day.
Validating emotions includes reading the child's behaviour and facial expressions to understand what the child is feeling and stating it in an accepting manner. E.g. 'You look very sad', 'You seem irritated with your friend' etc. When emotions are validated, expression is easier. When emotions are dismissed (eg. You cannot be sad about this) or invalidated (eg. You are not really angry, you are just tired), constructive expression of feelings becomes very difficult. When children's feelings are validated, there are able to regulate their emotions and resolve problem situations better. It fosters greater competence and independence in emotional regulation.
Model constructive expression
Children need to be shown that although they may not have control over how they feel, they can certainly choose how to respond. It is important to model safe and sanctioned ways to express the emotion, instead of suppressing it or impulsively acting on it. For eg. If B has taken A’s eraser away, and A hits B in return, then A can be encouraged to think about how hitting another person made them feel. Then, working together with the adult, they can figure out what reaction would have worked better in the situation (eg. getting the teacher’s help). Help them come up with a list of choices to pick from when they feel a certain emotion (eg. If I’m feeling confused, I can ask someone for help).
Power of positive self-talk
When we talk to ourselves in positive way, it can make a huge difference to how we feel. Negative self talk, on the other is usually filled with phrases like I can’t or I will never, and it often dissuades us from achieving our goals. If you see your child making negative statements (eg. Math is so hard, I will never be good at it) you could ask them, ‘What else could you tell yourself that would be helpful to you?'. If the child is unable to come up with an option, give them options and ask 'Would any of these be helpful to you?' (Eg. I’m good at many other things so if I try my best in math, I’m sure I can do well). If the child does not feel ready to use positive self-talk right away, back off. Validate and give the child some time and space.
The golden advice, as always, is for the parent to stay calm. If you are having trouble staying calm, explain to your child that you are upset right now and need some time alone. When you model behaviour that you want your children to exhibit, it is quite likely they will follow suit. The other important thing is to not step in and solve the child’s problem. All you need to do is be supportive. And when you do notice the child handling a particularly difficult situation well, remember to acknowledge it by describing what the child has done (eg. 'You did a great job of calming yourself down.)