Building your child’s emotional maturity is an important part of school readiness, and you can do this by helping your son or daughter to understand their feelings.
Sometimes we refer to this as building their ‘emotional vocabulary’.
Put simply, the best way to help your child understand how they and other people feel, is to talk about it. Often!
Tuning in to social cues
Helping your child to recognize the social cues that other people send is part of building their emotional maturity. One way to do this is to talk about the expressions you see on other people’s faces, so for example, you might:
• Watch a television program together and talk about how a character in the scene might be feeling
• Play a ‘mood detective’ game when you are out shopping. You might identify a person and say something like “that lady over there looks a bit unsure about whether to buy that banana” or ”that man pushing the trolleys looks a bit frazzled”
Small children often don’t understand what they are feeling or why they are feeling it, so helping them to label their emotion is a good first step in building awareness of their own emotions and the feelings of others.
As much as you can, use feelings words at home so that your child sees you labelling emotions.
• When you’re frustrated that you are taking a long time to find a place to park the car at the shopping centre, you might say something like “I get a bit annoyed when I waste time looking for a car spot”
• When you’re meeting up with friends, you might say something like “I always look forward to seeing Auntie Debbie. Getting together with her makes me feel happy.”
Be a ‘mirror’ for your child
Another way you can do this is by being a bit of a ‘mirror’ and reflecting your child's feelings back to them. This is important for helping them to recognize both positive and negative feelings.
You might say things like:
• I could see that you were so proud when you showed me your painting.
• I know, it makes you cranky when your little sister pushes your Lego® over.
• You look a bit upset about that. I can see that your eyes look sad and your face is red.
Now, let's be realistic! Your five year old is not going to turn into a sensitive, new age kid overnight, but research tells us that children who are tuned in to their own feelings and the feelings of the people around them often enjoy greater social and academic success, so it’s worth starting to develop this skill in your child now.
© 2020 Sonja Walker