Identifying FeelingsJanuary 8, 2018
Chapter 2 – Thoughts, Feelings & BehaviorJanuary 8, 2018
Think, Feel, Do
From as young as possible, children should explore the relationship between their thoughts, feelings and behavior.
It is important to learn that thoughts lead to feelings, and feelings lead to behavior. If we can learn to identify each of these as separate yet connected phases, we can teach children to question, interrogate, label, and most importantly, make choices about which thoughts, feelings and behavior to hold onto as healthy and useful.
Spend time with children exploring their different thoughts about themselves, others and the world. Help them to understand that not all our thoughts are necessarily true nor useful, and that all of us sometimes hold onto untrue thoughts. We have the choice to look at these thoughts, and if we don’t agree or they’re not good for us, we can let them go or reframe them. Practice this with children by asking them what they think in a situation, and then interrogate the thought – Is it true?
Where is the evidence? Does this thought make me feel good? How else could I think about this? When we start to come up with healthier alternatives, we call this ‘reframing'.
Children feel all the same feelings as adults. They sometimes don’t know how to label these feelings though, nor what to do with them. We need to spend time with children expanding their vocabulary of feelings. We then need to get them into the habit of knowing when they feel or experience different feelings. This is important because when you know what you are feeling (and why) you can make good choices about what you want to do with these feelings. Remember, having hard feelings - like anger, sadness, worry – is acceptable in some situations, and we shouldn’t rush children through these moments without acknowledging these feelings, connecting them to their cause, and finding healthy ways to process these feelings. Healthy emotional expression is equally important for boys and girls. We shouldn’t fall into the gendered idea that some feelings are okay for girls and not boys, and vice versa.
Our behavior becomes a reflection of who we are in the world. We are accountable for our actions, and we can’t blame other people or situations for what we do in the world. There is always more than one choice of what we can do in any situation. This becomes an important part of discipline, where rules and boundaries are ways of promoting pro-social and healthy behavior, and limiting negative and unhealthy behavior. Children should always be reminded that they have the ability to make their own choices in any situation. They are then accountable for their actions and should be encouraged to take the time to make choices facilitating the best possible outcomes. This is often hardest in situations where we feel intense feelings. Help children to get into the habit of slowing these moments down, exploring all their options and then acting out what they feel. This should grow into a personal confidence, that no matter what I’m feeling, I can hold this emotion long enough to decide what I’m going to do with it. Parents can also role model this by doing it in their own lives, and sometimes even saying it – I’m feeling very angry right now, but I need time to think about this feeling and what I’m going to do with it.
As a role model for your child, don’t be afraid to sometimes be vulnerable. You don’t always need to have all the answers. You are allowed to feel sad, angry and worried. You are allowed to take your time in finding the answers and deciding how you want to deal with these feelings. You can make mistakes, and you can say sorry when you do.