As the parent of a highly sensitive child you are likely used to regular meltdowns and bursts of frustration from your child. You are also likely used to hearing “I don’t know” when you ask what is wrong. Helping a child understand their emotions will help them put their feelings into words, and in turn help them express them in less a dramatic manner.
Why Children Need Help Recognising Emotions
My two youngest children recently had a student teacher helping out in their class. He taught a few lessons on the topic of emotions, using emoticons to help the children understand their feelings and which emotions belong with certain facial expressions.
Understanding visual cues of emotions is something that we, as adults, almost take for granted – particularly highly sensitive adults who read emotions well. We can recognise then someone feels angry, or worried, or upset or happy. But for children it can be extremely confusing to understand visual signals for different emotions.
At least that is what I came to realise when my 7 year old told me about what he had learned in one of the lessons about emotions. They were shown different emoticons and had to link emotions to each one – and then draw their own. It was insightful not just for my son, but for me too.
My seven year old is a master at uttering “I don’t know” when he is clearly overwhelmed, angry or upset and asked to try and explain what he is feeling.
I had spent a fair bit of time using emoticon cards I had made with my eldest, but I hadn’t done the same with my two youngest. And so that’s now on the agenda.
A HSC and Intense Emotions
A highly sensitive child is often scared or surprised by their own intense reaction to something. My children sometimes react with a fiery anger to a situation that seems decidedly low key or harmless – it is a shocking response to say the least.
If I start scratching below the surface there is a host of emotions at play, battling for top spot: tired, scared, fear of doing something because it seems too difficult, sad, confused, embarrassed, too busy in their head with the day’s events. But all those emotions, especially when they are mixed together, are hard for a young child to identify, label and understand.
Using Emotion Cue Cards
Using cue cards can clarify emotions for a child and help them understand what they are feeling. And that can help a child process their emotions more effectively instead of hitting out, slamming a door or screaming in frustration. They are more able to link how they are feeling to a specific event or series of incidents.
If you are on Pinterest there are a few links on my Highly Sensitive Board to help make your own emotion cue cards.
Naming an Emotion Helps
A common example in our home is when my husband has to go on a business trip. I brace myself for days or weeks that are more stormy than others as far as the emotions of my sons go. There will be inexplicable outbursts and tears where it seems to the boys that nothing goes right – until I suggest that maybe they are missing their papa. The penny drops and they can give their emotion a name and understand why they feel sad. A call or a FaceTime session later with papa and they feel calmer and happier.
Incidentally the film Inside Out is a great movie for discussing emotions.
Incidentally, the student teacher said his farewells to the class – and my son made him this:
A job well done by the student teacher wouldn’t you say?