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It's the job of a good dad to teach his children about emotions. Yes, I said it. Learning and teaching emotional intelligence isn't that hard though.
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Your young children don't yet have the life experience to cope with their emotions. To be precise, they don't even know what emotions are and how to name them.
What is more important they don't know how to respond to them correctly.
Guess what? Now's your time to shine...
Why are emotions so important?
The Harvard Study Of Adult Development has over 80 years produced data to answer "what makes us happy?"
The most important factor is good relationships.
1) Emotional regulation is essential to good peer to peer relations. If you want that your child has a happy life, then help him, or her to learn this.
2) Children who are taught about emotions are better at self-soothing. That again is excellent news for you!
3) Verbalizing emotions:
Men are famously illiterate when it comes to emotions. There are exceptions of course, and for you out there this task is a lot easier.
Don't understand me wrong. I don't suggest you have to learn to cry two times a day. It's more than enough that you master some basic concepts.
According to Paul Ekman, there are six basic emotions:
Your child can experience all these things by the time she or he is six months old. After that, more complicated emotions follow.
"[...] Know Yourself [...]"
Sun Tzu (Zi) - The Art Of War
Sadly, the advice of Sun Tzu has become a cliche but dwell on it for a moment if you please. You can't teach your child the names of different emotions unless you can recognize them yourself. You can't show your child how to react to varying emotions if you haven't mastered them yourself. To be comfortable with your feelings is an important skill.
Difference between emotions and feelings
Emotions and feelings aren't actually the same thing. Emotions are instant reactions to stimuli, but feelings need time to develop and reflect your associations to emotions (source).
That said, here I use the two terms interchangeably. I don't think it helps parents of a crying toddler if they can distinguish between the two:)
Can you describe your feelings?
If you don't know where to begin with, then I suggest you pick a day and write down all strong feelings you're having. Pay particular attention how are you reacting to your emotions.
1) If you are sitting in a traffic jam, how would you describe your feelings?
2) You got a pay raise (congratulations by the way!), what are your emotions?
3) Somebody tells a joke...well you get the idea...
"I went to the zoo and saw a baguette in a cage.
The zookeeper said it was bread in captivity!"
(According to the BestLifeOnline it's one of the top 50 Dad jokes)
You don't have to get a neuroscience degree to describe different emotions. Just use a common language. Ekman's six basic emotions are a helpful guide.
Accept all your child's emotions and feelings, don't accept every behavior
It's important not to downplay your kids' emotions. Yes, it's hard to understand why he reacts so strongly because she can't have a cookie or has to go to bed. That doesn't mean children's emotions are any less real or strong than adults.
The very crucial point is that you have to embrace the dark side. You have to accept also the negative feelings.
What is more important you must not allow every behavior that follows. It's the job of a good dad to teach his child what is a socially acceptable response to certain emotions.
Empathy means the ability to understand the feelings of others. To be a good father means to know when the mood of your child (or your partner) has changed.
Practice makes perfect, and it has been said that even if only about 30% interactions and emphatic, it may already be enough.
After you have detected the mood change try to put your kid's (or partner's) emotion into words.
For example, you could say:
"You seem to be+(emotion)"
"You were really looking for + (activity), you must be + (emotion)"
"You are +(emotion) because (sometimes you just know the reason...your partner may be mad at you because you left the dishes unwashed...again)"
These simple sentences let your child know that you understand him.
If you've got young children, then this practice helps to learn the names of different emotions.
It's important from the developmental point of view.
An open-ended sentence may invite him to talk if she's in a bad mood.
Mistakes to avoid
Be real! This advice may sound like something from a hip-hop song, and yet it's crucial. You don't want to sound like a creepy manipulator. When you verbalize your child's feelings try to be in the moment and match the emotions.
For example, when she's angry don't say in a sugary voice "You seem angry.."
If you think you're unable to do that, then one trick is to invite your child to draw his or her emotions.
You could also start drawing yourself.
You could say something like "you seem really frustrated, can you draw how frustrated you are."
Don't ask questions when your child is distressed. Try "Something happened..." This invites your child to talk, and it's her decision if he does that.
Don't use "BUT...", this implies that her feelings are important, but...
Try to use "the problem is + (problem)" or "even though you know +(problem), you really would + (what your child wants)"
To Sum Up
This has been a long post, and hopefully, it helps you to deal with the emotions of your family.
Two great books inspired me to write this article. If you wish to know more about the subject then you may want to read John Medina „Brain Rules For Baby“(also sold on Amazon) and Julie King, Joanna Faber „How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen“ (also sold on Amazon).
Medical lectures are usually so packed with information that people write a quick „Take-Home Message.“ This has been a long post and so here are my top 3:
1) Teaching your child the names of emotions and proper responses to them is important
2) Accept all feelings, don’t accept all reactions
3) Learn empathy