With all the time that we have been spending with our kids lately, it’s likely that you have noticed them having some feelings…and with that observation, you may be getting some feelings of your own! Understanding and knowing our feelings can seem rather difficult to do at times, and sometimes we may not be sure how to decipher them. Sometimes we may even wonder if it’s even Biblical to give our emotions attention.
Before we go into some practical steps on how to help our children process and understand their feelings, I want to encourage you that God has wired all of us as emotional beings, and He doesn’t ask us to hide from them! He actually created and designed us with feelings and emotions IN ORDER TO connect us further together. In fact, the Psalmist David, known as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), is a wonderful example of someone who expressed a lot of emotions! But he was evidently so in tune with God’s heart and felt freedom to be himself with God as God shapes and directs him. This is who I want to be as a parent—safe for my kids to share, in tune with what’s on their hearts, and have an open communication in which they desire to learn and grow.
From a psychological standpoint, feelings are a part of our senses that help us understand the world around us and learn more about what is going on for us in our own minds and hearts. These feelings are like energy that move in and through us, ebbing and flowing, and changing as we experience our day. Our brain even shifts gears from being in protection (having a flight/flight response in the amygdala) to being thoughtful (having a calm response in the prefrontal cortex) based off our perception and our feelings (Siegel, 2012).
Often times feelings are a challenge to understand, much less manage, and I’d like to provide you some tips to helping your kids, and perhaps yourself, really tap into this powerful resource.
- BREATHE! This may be the best tool in our tool boxes, but perhaps one of our most under-utilized resources. Job describes the power of breath this way: “The Spirit of God has made me; the breathof the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). So no matter where you are or what is going on around you, God has given us this resource that is a quiet, constant frequency of calm. This is a vital energy source of calm and allows our body to push PAUSE before we react. Pausing can help shift the gears in our brain from protection to a thoughtful, calm place. When feelings feel big and out of control, invite yourself and your child to start the discovery of their feelings with a full breath of fresh calm.
- Help Name The Feelings: When we are able to identify what is going on inside of us, it removes the scary mystery of the experience, and allows us to shift gears with full eyes of curiosity verses narrow eyes of fear and judgement. “There is no fear in love. But perfectlove drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18) When our hearts are scared of something bad happening, we close off in fear. And some feelings feel…bad. They feel uncomfortable, confusing, overwhelming, and who wants to feel that way? But when we invite God’s loving gaze in our introspection, it transforms our feelings from being hidden and confused inside us to a new perspective that is surrounded by the light of God’s love and compassion. To start, go online, grab a feelings chart of your choice, and print it out to use to help your kids start to identify and voice these emotions.
- Discover the Feeling’s Voice: Once we figure out which type of feeling we are experiencing, get even more curious and figure out what that feeling is trying to say. David asks God to help him do this very thing when he says, “Searchme, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). It’s incredible the kinds of unhelpful, untruthful things we can be thinking about, and those thoughts can produce some pretty powerful and even crippling feelings along with it. But God invites us to think of “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think of such things” (Ephesians 4:8).
I read a brilliant kids article that labeled this fear the “Worry Monster” (252 Team, 2019). You just simply ask the child what the worry monster is saying to them, and through this externalization of the feelings, we start to have real, deep, and meaningful conversations with our kids about what’s going on in their hearts. And here we have an incredible opportunity as parents to provide comfort, encouragement, or to help reshape our child’s perspective. We’ve now transformed a scary feelings moment into a powerful moment of connection and learning.
- Hunt for Feeling Clues: Children are slowly developing the fine skills needed to verbalize their feelings into words (Cherry, 2020), and this is a skill many of us still are working through into our adulthood. To help them, and us, along, we can teach them context cues of our non-verbals, which is our tone, facial expression, body language, posture. These are all clues to what is going on inside of us, in our hearts and minds. If you feel you can remain calm, try asking your children in the middle of their emotional response questions like, “I am noticing your tone is loud right now. Do you feel that?” “I am noticing that you are jumping up and down.”
- Remember this is all practice. When our emotional world is out of control, it is very difficult for us to learn or grow new skills in the moment. David trusted God to teach him with patience and kindness, and God promised David, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Psalm 23:8). Often times their inner world and our inner world is so full of anxiety that it is difficult for us to calm down enough in this moment to have a productive learning time. So take a break…pray…and calm down! Then when things are calm get back to practicing, trying to find playful ways to help them discover their feelings and stretch their breathing skills through exercises. See resources below for more ideas!
252 Team (2019, Nov 19) OKP 022: Helping kids navigate anxiety – naming the worry monster. Retrieved from https://orangeblogs.org/252basics/okp-022-helping-kids-navigate-anxiety-naming-the-worry-monster/?fbclid=IwAR0qH4CbfmyU_JqQ4Xzg3_y2W9HkAQW1K5sf02j4FKK1kClRn3OCvXxHvw8
Cherry, K. (2020). The 4 stages of cognitive development: Background and key concepts of Piaget's theory. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/piagets-stages-of-cognitive-development-2795457
Seigel, D., PhD. (2012). Dr Daniel Siegel presenting a Hand Model of the Brain. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm9CIJ74Oxw
- For breathing skills, apps, and self-regulation tips, check out https://www.cbc.ca/parents/learning/view/seven-self-regulating-apps-for-kids-that-teach-mindfulness
- For feelings charts and practices, check out fhttps://www.funwithmama.com/feelings-and-emotions-for-kids/
- Another great resource to help parents, kids and teens work through feelings and identify challenge areas is Kids Helpline. https://kidshelpline.com
- For more on Child Development: https://www.verywellmind.com/piagets-stages-of-cognitive-development-2795457
Published on Apr 14 @ 9:59 AM CDT