How To Raise Kids To Be Able To Express Themselves by Sipho Khumalo (Registered Psychological Counsellor)

Have you ever wondered why some adults struggle with expressing their emotions and feelings, especially males? Let us look at a scenario that might assist us in answering this question. Imagine a boy and a girl child are both playing and all of a sudden, they both trip and fall. In your opinion, which child is most likely to be picked up first and comforted? If you said, the girl child, chances are very high that you might be correct. Various studies done on parental behaviour towards girls and boys have indicated that parents have differential expectations (gender roles) of sons and daughters as early as 24 hours after birth. These gender roles are culturally influenced stereotypes which create expectations for appropriate behaviour for males and females. Going back to the above scenario, girls are taught how to handle and display their emotions differently than boys. For example, it is more acceptable in society for girls to cry and express their emotions whilst not the same treatment is afforded for a boy child. In a nutshell, this can be seen as ‘your feelings are not important and that you are not entitled to ask for what you need and to express how you feel’.

Feelings are complicated, especially for a 4-year-old who doesn’t understand why you won’t let them eat another cookie or an 8-year-old who is upset that you got called into work and you have to leave the playground early. Children experience emotions before they can use words to describe those emotions. Children also understand language before they can use it themselves. So, one can help their child understand what they’re feeling by helping them develop ‘emotional language’. It is hard to teach children about feelings because it is a fairly abstract concept. It is hard to describe how it feels to be sad, upset, happy or excited. It is important to begin teaching kids about their emotions as early as possible since their feelings affect every choice they make. Children who understand their emotions are less likely to act out by using temper tantrums, aggression, and defiance to express themselves. A child who can say, ‘I am mad at you,’ is less likely to hit. So a child who can say, ‘That hurts my feelings,’ is better equipped to resolve conflict peacefully.

Teaching your child about their emotions will help them become mentally strong. Additionally, research has shown that children who understand their emotions and have the coping skills to deal with them will be confident in handling whatever life throws their way. Building resilience is an ongoing journey and knowing how to work through feelings is an important first step in helping kids and teens learn to handle life’s ups and downs.

Here are some tips that parents (primary caregivers) can use to help their little ones with emotional regulation skills:

What we need to understand is that everyone has feelings and having feelings is not a weakness. All feelings are OK and normal. Feelings aren’t good or bad, positive, or negative. Rather they are all there for a reason and to be felt.  Feelings are temporary and can change from moment to moment. People can feel more than one feeling at a time and that is okay. It’s normal to feel both excited and nervous at the same time or to have moments of happiness in times of sadness. It is OK to talk about feelings. Talking about how we feel can make us feel better, while not talking about our feelings can sometimes make us feel worse or make us disconnect from ourselves emotionally.

Benefits of Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

High EQ is linked to high IQ

Children with higher levels of emotional intelligence generally perform better in most spheres of their lives, for example, forming healthy relationships, regulating their emotions and expressing their feelings appropriately. They also tend to have higher grades.

Better relationships

Emotional intelligence skills help kids manage conflict and develop deeper friendships. Adults with high levels of emotional intelligence also report better relationships in their personal and professional lives.

Childhood EQ is linked to higher success during adulthood

Children who were able to share, cooperate, and follow directions at age 5 were more likely to obtain college degrees and begin working full-time jobs by age 25.

Improved mental health

Individuals with higher levels of emotional intelligence are less likely to experience depression and other mental illnesses.

In conclusion, emerging research suggests that children who have experienced early life adversity can experience persistent difficulties with emotional regulation; and their interpersonal relationships can be characterised by over, or under, emotional reactivity. This may lay the foundation for the development of later social, emotional and behavioural disorders. Children who have experienced early adversity, neglect and maltreatment may benefit from professional psychological treatment. These children can also benefit from a range of caregiver or professionally delivered strategies to address emotional regulation including building emotional literacy, modelling emotional expression, teaching mindfulness and other coping strategies; structured thought-challenging exercises; and activities to build tolerance for strong emotions in the context of safe interpersonal relationships.

If you or a friend need advice or help, you can contact me here on Ask Choma, send me a Facebook Message, an  Instagram message, a  Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657).