As I was wondering how best to start off my posts for Mental Health Awareness Month, I remembered working with a teenager who had several issues to be addressed in therapy. The problem was, she grew up not having learned how to express how she felt, particularly when she felt “negative” emotions (e.g. sadness, anger, etc.). In order to get to the issues she came in for, we first had to develop her language of emotion. Recalling this treatment approach helped me realize that there’s no better way to launch this month, than by talking about developing children’s language of emotion.
Essentially, children’s social and emotional development begins in infancy, as they interact with the world around them. It is helpful, as well as healthy to encourage children to talk about how they feel. This in turn helps them understand and cope with their emotional experiences.
I found a few hands-on materials that I hope you find useful. Firstly, the Department of Human Services in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania offers a free 16-page coloring and activity book, titled “Explore Your Emotions,” with an accompanying guide for parents. Examples of the coloring book are shown above. They can be downloaded by clicking on the links provided.
Additionally, when I took a course in how to help parents become better parents (that should be the course title if you ask me), one of the texts was, “SOS! HELP FOR PARENTS” (fitting, yes?). It contains an entire chapter on ‘Helping Your Child Express Feelings,’ which is also available free online.
Some parents have difficulty facing their own emotions, and this may hinder their ability to teach children the language of emotion. This difficulty may come from your family’s unspoken rules on talking about feelings, or the expectations of your society. If you would like to learn how to express your own feelings, you can check out this article by the University of Illinois’ Counseling Center.