The Language of Emotions – Managing Anxiety

Learning the language of emotions is crucial for helping your child manage anxiety. Helping your child learn to identify and express a full range of emotions is a great gift you can give them as it is the foundation of good mental health.

Often, our anxious children struggle with expression of feelings. You’ll see them grappling with frustration, nervousness, anger, hurt, sadness and depression and many other emotions without being able to identify or communicate what they are feeling.

They get stuck in patterns of behaviour which are comfortable in their familiarity even if those patterns of behaviour do not serve them well. A child’s struggle with their feelings can certainly cause stress in a family. If you’ve observed your child acting out feelings they cannot verbalize but which are obviously causing them grief, you probably have experienced helplessness and your own frustration and worry. Maybe you’ve heard your child say, “You don’t understand!” or “you don’t know what I’m going through,” or “I don’t know what’s wrong - everything’s wrong,” “it’s your fault, their fault, her fault,” “I hate my life.” And you feel powerless to help and no further ahead in knowing what is going on inside them.

When we (not just your child, but all of us) can speak in the language of emotions, we are better able to communicate what is getting in the way of our problem solving and happiness. Children learn by watching, by listening and especially by doing and do best in an environment where they feel loved and safe.  So it’s time to develop your language skills. There are several exercises, activities, and games your child and whole family can participate in. Here are a couple to get you started:

Generate a list of feeling words. Brainstorms as many feeling words as you can. Once you’ve come up with a good list - try for at least a dozen - review the list. Read every word out loud and ask your child to  try to define any unfamiliar words. (Help them out by saying, “I think this means _____. What do you think it means?”) Post this list on the fridge or bulletin board and refer to it often, especially if your child seems to be struggling to express a feeling appropriately.

Make a collage. Find pictures in old magazines that show people expressing emotion with face and/or body. Cut them out and arrange on paper. See if you can identify the emotion. There is no right or wrong as we all interpret other people’s face and body language differently. A smile or a frown can mean many things!  Encourage your child to explain what they see in the faces and body language that gives them clues to what people are feeling (look at eyes, eyebrows, mouth, posture, etc.)

In a natural, almost unconscious, process, children follow the examples set by you and others, modelling both behaviour and the accompanying emotional tone. Support your child by doing the previous exercises together and help them learn and practice healthy expression of comfortable and uncomfortable emotions in a way that will support them their whole lives.


Article Author: Valerie Ostara is the world’s first Closet Monster Battle Coach and founder of Sound–Mind.ca, an educational and coaching organization dedicated to defeating the anxiety monsters that lurk in the closets and under the beds of our children’s minds. Through our effective and empowering strategies, children and parents learn the skills and self-management techniques guaranteed to bring peace of mind.
Photo Source: courtesy of imagerymajestic / Free Digital Photos