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Do Your Kids Know How to Handle Their Emotions?

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A child not handling his emotions - emotional milestones
The emotional health of children in our culture may be declining. Here's what you can do for your kids.

In the U.S., anxiety is now considered a childhood epidemic, and the rates of depression and suicide continue to climb. In my counseling practice, I sit with numerous young girls who lack coping skills to deal with the fears they face around school, being separated from their parents or other anxiety-inducing situations. I also see young men who have no ability to regulate their emotions. Their only “coping skill” is to explode, with little regard for family members caught in the aftershocks.

How a child develops emotionally often dictates who he becomes as a spouse, friend, co-worker, and even, someday, a parent.

That’s why two colleagues and I have compiled a list of emotional, spiritual and social milestones we believe kids need to reach. 

Leading Your Child Through Emotional Milestones

Get fresh insights on your child’s emotional milestones from counselors Sissy Goff and David Thomas, as they offer practical advice for parents. 

This is Part 1. View Part 2.

Here are four emotional milestones that parents can be looking for and cultivating as their children grow:

Emotional vocabulary

When I sit with parents of toddlers, there is one primary emotion those parents describe seeing in their children. You might have guessed it — anger. Anger is what psychologists consider a secondary emotion. That means that generally another emotion is underneath the anger.

The child having an angry outburst may feel sad over having her feelings hurt by a sibling. Or she may feel fearful and disrupted by transitions (often an indicator of anxiety). But, because the child has not yet learned to name his feelings, they are all funneled into the emotion of anger.

For our children to have healthy relationships and healthy emotional lives as they grow, they need to be able to accurately identify and articulate their feelings. When I speak to churches and schools, I take along a basic feelings chart. One family created their own chart. 

The 8-year-old girl who made it included the traditional emotions of sadness, fear and anger with the correlated expressions, but added a surprised face with, “I didn’t see that coming!”

feelings chart will help children accurately learn to name their feelings. This can be a natural learning process if you talk about emotions often. And if you develop the skill of clearly naming your own feelings, you will model how this is done with your children.

© 2018 by Focus on the Family.
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Perspective

Have you ever seen the pain scales that hang in the ER? These charts list numbers one through 10 with faces representing the varying degrees of pain. In my practice, I’ve started talking a lot about pain scales.

Many children seem to live at

Level 10 !

It doesn’t matter if the emotion is fear, sadness, anger or excitement. They skip one through nine and go straight to 10. As adults, most of us would say life actually happens in the two to seven range. Children need to learn to distinguish between levels of emotion so they develop a healthy perspective on life.

In a calm moment, I’ll say, “Tell me the worst thing you can imagine happening. What’s a 10 on your scale?” From there we can discuss what level of emotion is appropriate for different circumstances because of that baseline.

You can do the same with your child to help him regulate his emotions. When he gets into the car after school and says, “This is the worst day of my entire life!” you can begin with empathy: “That sounds really tough,” and then reference your scale: “What number do you think it was on your scale?” This demonstrates that you’re listening and seeking to understand, but the goal is to move the child to a place of perspective.

Empathy

Helping our children learn to step into someone else’s shoes is profoundly important. We want them not only to show compassion, but also to have empathy for others — to understand what life feels like from someone else’s viewpoint. This is one of the foundational building blocks for relationships, and one that I see diminishing, particularly during adolescence.

From a developmental standpoint, most teenagers struggle in the empathy department. They’re thinking about themselves most of the time. And social media doesn’t help. Here are a couple of ideas that you might use to help move your children in this direction:

Take your children to volunteer at a soup kitchen.

Read true stories together that talk about another’s struggles.

See movies that highlight someone else’s difficulties.

Go on a family missions trip.

Then ask questions, such as, “What do you think that character feels?” or “What would you do if you were him?”

Resourcefulness

A friend recently said, “I wish my mom had said, ‘You’ve got this,’ more than, ‘Let me get this for you.’ ” As parents, we need to be willing to step back and allow our kids to handle more on their own. They are lacking resourcefulness simply because we’re too often being their only resource. Ask yourself:

  • What can my son do that I’m doing for him right now?
  • How can I give my daughter more responsibility?
  • Where can I ask questions rather than give answers?

Questions help children think for themselves and connect the dots without the parent feeding answers to them in small bites.

As you seek to develop the fruits of these four emotional milestones in your children, don’t forget about yourself. How are you doing at naming your feelings, keeping perspective, demonstrating empathy and exercising resourcefulness? Our children learn more through observation than information. If we want them to be reaching these milestones, we need to be living them out ourselves.

Psalm 144:12 offers this encouragement: “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace.” As we lead our kids toward emotional maturity, they will become more of who God intends them to be. They’ll mess up, of course, and take a few steps back occasionally, but then they will move forward again. God’s grace will cover their steps — and ours — along the paths He has laid out for us.

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Your Teen Needs You Most of All

No parent of teens is perfect and even the best can learn how to better connect with their son or daughter. Get practical action steps to better connect with your teenager in 8 Essential Tips for Parenting Your Teen in this FREE video series!

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.
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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.

Reconnected: The Digital Experience

Is the love there, but not the spark? Reawaken fun in your marriage and move from roommates to soulmates again with the help of this 7-part online video experience. Learn how to connect emotionally and spiritually as husband and wife using techniques such as dreaming together and establishing deep, heartfelt communication. The Digital Experience includes 7 teaching videos, an online study guide and access to additional tools and resources to help spouses reconnect.

Next Steps: Marriage Assessment

We want your marriage to be thriving and healthy. Take the free Marriage Assessment from Focus on the Family to learn how to strengthen your bond with your spouse and get the tools to help you need to grow closer together. 

Next Steps: Fruit of the Spirit Devotionals for Couples

The Fruit of the Spirit Devotional is a free series of nine short videos to get you into God’s Word and inspire you to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in loving your spouse.

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