Explaining Emotions to Our Children
By Claudia Rios-Gastelum, LMFT 97284
If we were to ask parents to describe their top concerns in regards to their child’s most difficult behaviors, most parents would report that difficulty managing emotions would be one of the top contenders. One of the least supported duties in parenting is the task of teaching our children how to develop emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions. This ability is one of the most beneficial for our children’s lifelong well-being. We often believe that schools will support our children in developing this ability; however, child development experts report that children begin to develop this skill in the first 5 years- a time where most children have not entered academic settings.
First, let’s start by developing a better understanding of emotions. Emotions are defined as “complex patterns involving [experiences], behavioral and physiological elements1.” Our autonomic nervous system, which encompasses the brainstem, spinal cord and organs, as well as the neocortex and amygdala in the brain are said to be the major players behind our emotions. I like to describe emotions as our body’s messengers, and our job is to decode the message and find the healthiest way of addressing the need at the core of the message. As adults, we support children in expressing emotions in a way that is helpful to them and others around them.
Emotions can be put in two different categories: basic and complex emotions. Basic emotions are those emotions that most kids can label such as sadness, anger, fear, disgust, happiness and surprise. Complex emotions involve more context as they require self-reflection and exploration. Examples of complex emotions are jealousy, shame, and gratitude. One last message that I want to leave you with- there is no such thing as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ emotions. Emotions might make our body experience negative body sensations but this does not mean that this emotion is bad. Emotions are usually perceived as “bad’ because of the behaviors we choose to engage in as a response to the emotion.