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Understanding and Taming Emotions

June 7, 2019

Just as we do, our children experience a slew of emotions starting as early as the first weeks of their life.

Types of Emotions

Already at such a young age, infants feel what is called primary emotions: joy, anger, sadness, fear, disgust and surprise. As they age and gain emotional experience, the list grows. For example, at approximately two years old, children start to feel social emotions, such as embarrassment, pride and shame. At this age, they understand their individuality and become aware of other people’s perception of them.

Positive and Negative Emotions… Really?

That’s often how emotions are defined. We tend to categorize feelings like happiness, inner peace, plenitude or pride as positive emotions, while anger, jealousy or sadness are branded as negative. Unfortunately, this classification can mislead to believe feeling anger is a negative thing, which couldn’t be further from the truth! Feeling angry is normal, healthy and, most of all, human. NO ONE is exempt from it. What can be seen as negative is the sensation of anger or the way we express and deal with it. It’s better to see emotions as pleasant and unpleasant.

Be Open to Expressing Emotions

By allowing your children to talk about emotions, you are allowing yourself to do the same! This conveys the message that everyone has the RIGHT to feel various emotions and none are taboo. You open the channels of communication, you share and, in doing so, your child learns to develop empathy. Encouraging our kids to talk about emotions regularly teaches them that everyone experiences emotions in different ways; that each person tries to express and manage their feelings as best as they can. Through these discussions, children can also learn new strategies to voice and manage their own emotions. In addition, they will avoid feeling an emotional overflow, since they are invited daily to express themselves for this purpose rather than repressing their emotions and eventually exploding.

When we allow our children (and ourselves) to feel all the emotions they want, it reduces that unpleasant emotional burden, making managing feelings easier.  

Strategies to Manage Emotions

Before learning to manage our emotions, we need to be able to identify them properly (to label the physical and psychological sensations felt correctly), then express them. Thus, emotional management is the third and final step in this complex learning of feeling. Here are some examples of effective strategies:

  • Withdrawing (No, it's not a punishment to walk away when you feel an emotional overflow; doing so can reduce the surrounding stimuli and help calm you down.)
  • Breathe (the merits of deep abdominal breathing are proven!)
  • Listen to music
  • Read a book
  • Go for a walk
  • Let off steam (no, it will not encourage the expression of violence in your child or in yourself.) In fact, aggression and violence are two distinct concepts: aggression is part of the human emotional experience; we all feel it at one time or another and it ranges in intensity. Some people manage it through yoga, while others need to release it through boxing or any other intense physical activity.

What matters is to feel comfortable with the chosen strategy, and that the technique is effective in calming while being harmless to others.

Enjoy your emotions!

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