Expressing Feelings and Emotions Appropriately

When we are born, we are “hard-wired” for basic emotions. These emotions include anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise. Adults learn to control these hard-wired emotions throughout life. However, children need help in learning to regulate these emotions, beginning in infancy.  You help by comforting your child when he/she is feeling overwhelmed by feelings.  When your infant is hungry, cold, fearful, lonely, or overstimulated, he/she can experience intense emotion and anxiety, resulting in stress.  Staying with your baby until he/she is calm is teaching your child how to manage his/her own emotions.

Other feelings, such as humility, forgiveness, hope, compassion, sympathy, patience, cooperation, and gratitude must be learned.  As your child gets older, you will need to teach him/her the words and meanings of these emotions.  In this way, your child will learn how to appropriately express emotions in adulthood and avoid becoming overwhelmed during stressful situations.

Generally, humans deal with emotions by suppressing them, verbalizing them, or acting out with inappropriate behaviors. Just like an overstuffed trash can, harmful emotions that are suppressed will eventually overflow, causing a person to express sudden anger or experience depression. Many illnesses can be attributed to suppressed emotions.

Expressing feelings through words is a positive way to share emotions.  Sometimes, a child does not have the words to describe his/her feelings.  As a parent,  you will need to teach your child the words to respectfully express an emotion or feeling.

Acting out through aggressive, angry behavior is never an appropriate way to express feelings.  Sometimes, there is an underlying problem that a child is unable to express in words, such as fear, worry or pain. Look for the child’s hidden messages.

Because anger is one of the most poorly handled emotions in society, we will take a closer look.  Helping your child handle anger is one of your most important jobs as a parent and one that requires your ability to manage your own anger.

Anger is a very intense emotion that is triggered by an event or interaction between people.  It’s a primitive emotion and is usually a response to pain or fear.

As we saw earlier,  we are hard-wired with this emotion at birth.  It’s a self-defense response and its purpose is to defend or protect us from danger.  If not handled properly, anger can result in broken relationships and guilt.  It is often the basis for depression and anxiety.  It can cause physical illness.  Anger can cause more heartache and destruction in families than any other emotion.

We see anger inappropriately expressed in several ways:

  • Through body reactions, such as facial expressions, sweating, tears, tantrums, or loss of self-control
  • Through verbal expression by means of screaming, cursing, or arguing
  • Through physical aggression, such as hitting, kicking, or throwing things
  • Through passive aggressive behaviors, such as uncooperative behavior, procrastination, forgetfulness, and stubbornness
  • Through depression, resulting in feelings of hopelessness, isolation, and suicidal thoughts

Families have different ways of expressing anger.  How was anger expressed in your childhood family?

Holding anger inside, or pretending that something doesn’t bother you can be very dangerous, resulting in depression,  dependence on drugs and alcohol,  eating disorders and health problems.  Heart attack, stroke, lowered immunity, or suicide are often attributed to suppressed anger.  In many families, the expression of anger was considered to be unacceptable, but we now know, that acknowledging and working through anger in appropriate ways, is better than keeping it inside.

Children, just like adults, can experience anger.  Below is a partial list of common causes for anger in children.

  • Moving
  • Feelings of being misunderstood
  • An overloaded schedule
  • Feelings of being ignored or unappreciated
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Repeated abuse or unjust treatment
  • Being forced to takes sides in a parental conflict

How can you help your child manage anger in positive ways?

  • Be a role model by expressing your own feelings in healthy ways.
  • Help your child identify his/her own feelings and provide words to express those feelings.
  • Be emotionally available to your child by spending time, using good eye-contact, touching, and focusing on your child’s needs.
  • Listen to what your child is saying.

As you listen attentively to your child, avoid

Denying his/her feelings. Example: “You don’t hate your teacher.”

Minimizing his/her feelings. Example:  “You’ll forget about it tomorrow.”

Talking him/her out of a certain feeling. Example: “There’s no such thing as a monster.”

Ignoring your child’s  feelings.

Reassure your child that he/she can say anything to you, but that it must be said with respect. It’s never appropriate to say mean and ugly words to you.  Give your child time to process his/her feelings and offer your child words to express those feelings.

Let’s look at the following examples.  Help your child use appropriate words to express his/her anger in certain situations.

“I feel angry about that rule.”

“I feel jealous of my brother.”

“I’m mad. The teacher was unfair.”

Use the words sad, disappointed, and frustrated in the sentences below to express feelings in healthy ways.  The first one is done for you.

“I feel sad that my friend is moving away.”

“I feel disappointed_____________________________.”

“I can’t_______________________________________.  I am so frustrated!”

Let’s look at the following examples.  Help your child use appropriate words to express his/her anger in certain situations.

“I feel angry about that rule.”

“I feel jealous of my brother.”

“I’m mad. The teacher was unfair.”

By giving your child words to express angry feelings,  you are training him/her to respond to emotions in healthy ways as he/she matures.

Below are some additional ways to manage anger in your family.

  • Be watchful at the first signs of anger.  Don’t wait too long to address it.  If too much time is allowed to pass, a person loses the desire to work through a conflict.
  • Plan ahead. Anticipate things that could create a conflict between you and your child and find a creative way to avoid them.
  • Allow yourself and your child to calm down before addressing an issue.
  • Speak calmly.
  • Be willing to ask forgiveness if you were too angry in dealing with a conflict.  Ask yourself, “Did I contribute to the problem by reacting in anger?”
  • Breathe and count to 10.
  • Exercise.
  • Encourage your child to write his/her feelings in a journal or draw a picture. This strategy is good for parents too.
  • Pray and ask the Lord for wisdom.
  • Seek help from a professional, if necessary.

Try Something New

Be an observer of your emotions and those of your child. Try to respond during stressful situations in a way that is calm and logical, rather than reactive. Think ahead.  Plan how you will respond in certain situations.

Verses for Encouragement

Learn how to manage your own anger so you can live the kind of life that pleases God.

James 1:20

For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

Maintain a calm voice with your child during stressful situations.

Proverbs 15:1

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Work through conflict as soon as possible.  Don’t allow anger to control your life.

Ephesians 4:26

And don’t sin by letting anger control you.  Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.