Emotional wellbeing is often a complex issue. Trying to work out what’s going on or why things are the way they are can often be challenging for any professional.
A useful starting point can be thinking about a child/young person’s emotions, which usually have three parts; physiological changes in the body, cognitive processes, and behavioural responses. Emotions usually happen in response to a situation.
Children and young people can experience lots of different emotions (e.g. sadness, anger, happiness and fear) which are all normal and functional; and as such there are no ‘bad’ emotions. It is what we do with our emotions and how we manage them that is important.
For example, sometimes anxious thoughts and being angry are quite normal and healthy, but we need to recognise when these become a problem in daily life and learn strategies to help us work through our feelings.
Tips for working with children and young people to help them understand, express and manage their emotions:
- Encourage them to talk about their feelings and emotions and create a safe environment for this.
- Normalise emotions and encourage acceptance. You could teach the child about the fight/flight/freeze response. Avoid judgement or criticism. Explain that we all feel emotions like anger and sadness from time to time.
- With regards to books and films, use open ended questions to talk about feelings and emotions presented.
- Notice and label what the child/young person might be feeling (e.g. ‘it seems to me that you are upset. Would you like to talk about it?’… ‘You look worried’)
- Encourage the child/young person to complete a mood diary so they can spot patterns and make links with their daily activities.
- Model expressing your own emotions in a healthy way (e.g. ‘I feel a bit annoyed today because the traffic was bad, but I will feel better soon. I’m going to join in with your colouring as that will help me calm down’).
- Explore alternatives to talking to express feelings e.g. drawing, journaling, creating animations, making music or sporting activities.
- Encourage your child to think of ways to handle their emotions e.g. ‘I know you’re upset that you did not get picked for the lead role in the play. What can you do to help yourself feel a bit better?’
- Encourage open communication with the child’s family if possible.
- Create a wellbeing toolkit with the child. Decorate a shoe box together and gather items to put in it that will help them to feel better or act as a distraction e.g. a stress ball, bubbles, a puzzle, colouring book and crayons, copy of favourite song lyrics etc. Encourage your child to use their toolkit when they are experiencing uncomfortable emotions.