How to Support Your Child’s Emotional Awareness (& prevent emotional eating later in life)

Last week we talked about the importance of feeling all feelings, not just the positive ones. Indeed, aiming for “positivity” and not allowing the negative thoughts to cross our minds leads to us labeling our feelings as bad, and “stuffing” them with food or other distractions.

As one of my clients said at a recent workshop, “I don’t have a reaction. I have a bag of chips.”

But reactions are human, natural, and normal. Denying them is to deny ourselves. It leads to emotional eating, among other problems. We need to feel our emotions.

This lesson is important not only for us, but for our kids too. How do we teach this lesson to our children?

Telling a child after a negative experience that “it’s not that bad,” or “you’ll get over it,” or “come here and have a cookie!” all reinforce that child staying out of touch with their emotions. The first two comments negate their experience: for them, compared to their life experiences so far, maybe what just happened was pretty awful. They need time to process, just as we adults sometimes do.

Offering the cookie, on the other hand, starts training them to stuff their emotions with food.

How can we train our children to be well adjusted, feel their feelings, and stay in integrity with themselves?

Offer a hug, and process the issue together. Don’t analyze it yourself – ask your child the questions, and allow them to determine their own reality. Don’t attempt to color it for them. “What happened there?” “How did it make you feel?” and “Which part made you feel that way?” are all good questions to ask.

Mom and toddler smaller

Then validate and empathize. “It makes sense that you felt sad when Timmy took your toy away. You were probably having fun, and then Timmy’s choices surprised you and the fun stopped, huh? It’s ok to feel sad.”

After processing the experience (because that part is SOOOO important, and shouldn’t be skipped!), help them understand what might be going on.

Here’s where you offer your wisdom: “Timmy took the toy because he was probably feeling frustrated or impatient. Or maybe because he wanted your attention. It wasn’t a nice way for him to act, but maybe it was his way of saying he wanted to play with you. What do you think of that?”

Coach your child to be better prepared to deal with the issue themselves the next time: “What would you like to say to Timmy about how his actions made you feel? What do you want him to know? What would you tell him so that next time he asks you nicely, instead of taking your toy away?”

The next time, your child might not be able to fully deal with the situation on his or her own – but they’ll have a better idea of what might have motivated the behavior (thanks to your insightful wisdom), how they can approach Timmy to discuss it, and most important – they’ll feel their emotions without shutting them down, or training themselves to short-circuit them with a bag of chips or a cookie.

And you’re helping your child learn a life-long skill to become a well-adjusted adult. Great work, Mama!

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2 Comments

  1. Awesome food for thought, Nicole. I absolutely agree and am really trying to be thoughtful with my children and their emotions. Thank you! I appreciate the example ways to talk with a child and express support while not shoving in my opinion or negating their emotions. Sometimes I find it hard to come up with the words I’d like to use in the moment, so nice to have ideas on hand. 🙂

  2. Nicole

    So glad you find it helpful, Robin! 🙂

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