Children experience complex emotions just like adults. They can get frustrated, angry, sad, embarrassed, and worried, but they don’t have the vocabulary to communicate them in a way adults will understand. Instead, they express themselves through body language and various behaviors. One of the crucial parts of being a parent is learning to identify and understand these emotions. Armed with this kind of knowledge, we can help our children process what they are feeling and show them how to manage their emotions constructively.
Understanding Your Child’s Behavior to Help Them Manage Their Emotions
Of course, as parents, we’re not just born knowing all that. We also need to learn how to understand children’s needs and behaviors. Let’s dive in!
If You Understand, You Will Help Them Understand
As we have mentioned, parents have to at least try to understand the emotions of their children. By trying to understand and communicating with them, you will teach them to express themselves better. Kids who learn to express their emotions early on are more likely to:
- form stable relationships
- be empathic and supportive of others
- have good mental health
- feel more confident
- display less problematic behaviors
- perform better in school
Learn the Reasons Behind Their Behavior
Sometimes, we think children “act up,” but there is always some reason behind certain behaviors. Physical factors, such as hunger, exhaustion, lack of sleep, and illness, can irritate kids. However, they’re usually not fully aware of what exactly is irritating them, especially when they are very young.
Also, kids can be exposed to stress, within their family, in their environment, or at school. They can imitate behaviors they are witnessing in their surroundings, or some behaviors can be a part of their temperament. If you understand the root of their actions, and emotions it will be easier to handle it and to advise them on how to handle it.
Tackle the Unpleasant Emotions
So, you’ve found out why your children act the way they act. Now it’s time to address these behaviors, feelings, and needs.
For example, if you notice they’re acting up because they’re actually feeling under the weather, you’ll want to provide comfort and help them soothe.
Stress is one of the most unpleasant experiences for kids, and it is very difficult for them to handle it. Many kids, for example, experience anxiety during the exam period. You might find them complaining about headaches or stomach aches, using negative language, showing a lack of interest in social activities, experiencing a loss of appetite, etc. It is possible to relieve exam stress on kids by showing understanding, talking to them, and encouraging them.
The Subtle Art of Listening
We’ve already pointed out the fact that children naturally have trouble expressing their emotions with words. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to them, as talking about their feelings will help them understand them better.
Even if they are angry and saying some words you would not approve of, consider allowing them to express themselves. This will help them ease the burden. When they are finished, you can ask them questions or provide advice. The point is to genuinely listen and make them feel like they are being listened to.
Children Show Different Reactions at Different Ages
While every child has a unique character, different behaviors are typical for specific ages. Here’s a list of emotional and behavioral milestones at different ages:
- By 12 months: At this age, babies will cry to get their needs met (hunger, thirst, etc.). They will show the ability to self-soothe (e.g., sucking fingers). They will respond to your emotions.
- Ages 18 months–2 years: This is the age of tantrums, but remember that tantrums don’t happen without reason. They are an expression of children’s desire to be more independent. They will also imitate their parents’ behavior.
- Ages 3–4 years: Children will start experiencing a wider range of emotions, and they will try to verbalize them. Pretend play will often be their choice, which is why they will be prone to confusing the real and the imagined world.
- Ages 5–6 years: This is the age when they become more independent, so they will test their and your boundaries. They will also start experiencing embarrassment.
- Ages 7–8 years: At the age of seven, kids are starting to become aware of other people’s perspectives. They will start expressing feelings with words, but when they don’t succeed, it’s possible that they’ll become upset.
- Ages 9–10 years: They can start withdrawing from family conversations and interactions and leaning more toward their peers. It’s normal for them to be a bit rude, argumentative, and selfish.
- Ages 11–15 years: While this is a great time for parents because they can observe their kids’ identities budding, it is also a difficult period. They will be moody, require privacy, and test out new ideas to help them find their place among peers.
- Ages 16–18 years: Finally, being one step away from adulthood, they will strive for independence. They will start getting to know themselves, discovering their strengths and weaknesses, and they will need your support for that. Just remember, support doesn’t mean control.