It might be challenging, but an important aspect of parenting is helping children confront their big feelings. It is common for children to display strong emotions when they are having to adjust to a new routine or environment. However, when children learn to identify and regulate their emotions, they adjust better, and change is accepted easier.
For example, a child may have adjusted well to school during the first half of the year, but as we head into the third term, they might begin to be nervous of what’s to come. Some children display behaviour changes throughout the school year and the “shock” of adapting to a different environment and a different routine might only manifest a couple of months later. It is therefore necessary to help them navigate their big emotions to ease into change.
Mari Payne, Director of Education and Outreach at Sesame Workshop South Africa says that despite the fact that parenting children is an unpredictable adventure, the first and most crucial step is providing them with the necessary support they need to face daily challenges. This is a nurturing approach which provides them the confidence to take on any obstacle.
The 14th season of Takalani Sesame provides children, but also parents and caregivers functional ways to help children identify their emotions and self-regulate. This new season takes on a deeper understanding of Big Feelings, following on from Season 13 of Takalani Sesame, it includes difficult topics, like consent, speaking up, belonging, and identity.
Payne notes that there are many ways in which parents can help children self-regulate and ultimately solicit a healthy change in how their emotions manifest themselves.
Mari provides five suggestions to help your child learn to cope with strong emotions;
- Naming and vocalising feelings: Encourage your child to speak up! Helping them self-regulate begins with understanding their emotions and teaching them about them. This can be done by explaining that everyone has feelings, some of which are positive while others are unpleasant. Most crucial, let them know that all emotions are normal, even uncomfortable ones. Children need to be aware of the fact that emotions come and go through our bodies.
As an exercise, ask your child to list every feeling word they can think of, then talk about how each one makes them feel.
- Identify triggers: As children become familiar with feelings and can relate them to their bodies, it’s time for them to understand where those feelings come from. They need to know that the emotions we experience are usually a result of events that occur around us. Therefore, the next time your child comes to you feeling a certain way, ask him or her what happened just before the feeling developed. This will also give you a better understanding of your child’s thought process in the face of adversity.
- The difference between feelings and behaviour: Although we may not have control over our feelings, we can choose how to express them. Despite all feelings being okay to have, what we do with them is more important. The more we help children separate their feelings from their behaviour, the more likely they are to be able to take responsibility and take accountability for their actions.
- Validate their feelings: Children feel validated when their feelings are understood. While it can be tempting to immediately address a child’s big feelings as they arise, doing so would omit an important step in their development. As such, it’s common to make them feel understood by saying “I can understand why that would make you sad” or “it’s ok to feel angry about this.” In essence, normalise making the space for feelings to be felt.
- Help them self-regulate and suggest an outlet to help them express their emotions: Your child will act more aggressively if they are upset or angry. Therefore, it might be helpful to encourage them to find a quiet spot and slow down their breathing, or to whisper calming phrases to themselves, such as ‘it’s okay’, ‘breathe in, breathe out.’ Furthermore, sometimes physical contact can be very helpful as well. Let them know that you or another caring adult will always be there for a hug.
For more tips on Big Feelings, Takalani Sesame Season 14 airs weekdays on SABC 2 at 3.30 PM. Episodes air in English on Mondays, isiZulu on Tuesdays, Sesotho on Wednesdays, Ndebele on Thursdays and Afrikaans on Friday.