Emotions. They are a big part of our lives. They are the things that let you feel excited, scared, sad, joyful, worried, and happy. Conventional wisdom states that girls feel more emotions than boys, and we can see this idea reflected back to us in all sorts of ways. This stereotype is perpetuated in many different ways; we can see it in literature, the film industry, and even daily interactions with others. Women are viewed negatively if they express too many emotions, and men are viewed negatively if they express so-called 'feminine' emotions. Unfortunately, you cannot do anything to change these harmful ideals, but you can make sure your child understands that their emotions are natural and normal. Part of this starts at home: teach your child how to get in touch with their emotions and ask them to express how they feel. Ignoring or asking your child to suppress their emotions will effect them in many different ways in the future.
Teaching your children to suppress their feelings means that they will continue to ignore their emotions well into adulthood. This sets them up for dangerous health problems later on in life. Psychologists from the University of Rochester and Harvard School of Public Health found that suppressing emotions may increase your risks for heart disease and certain forms of cancer. Having no way to express their feelings only increases these risks. Suppressing emotions (especially negative ones) also increases stress levels, which leads to the potential for multiple health problems if the stress is prolonged. Emotional development is essential during infancy and early childhood. The ability to regulate emotions during challenging situations helps children sustain learning; the ability to communicate their feelings means children will have their needs met; and the ability to understand other people's feelings gives children the knowledge they need to modify their behavior to fit the situation. (Halberstadt & Lozada, 2011).
Often times, children might feel certain emotions, but have difficulty expressing them. Stories give us the opportunity to express feelings that are difficult to express in other ways. If your child is having trouble expressing their emotions, have them tell a story. Ask them to provide lots of detail in their story (such as how the character thinks, acts, and feels), and then use that to help your child deal with their emotions. As your child grows in emotional maturity, have them gradually step away from using stories to express their emotions. Ask them to tell you how they feel and why they feel that way. This not only helps you understand what your child is dealing with, but it also helps them practice introspection, which will continue to serve them well into adulthood.
Storytelling will also help increase the bond you share with your child. Instead of only asking your child to express how they feel, use a story to share how you are feeling and how you can deal with those feelings. This not only helps the child understand that emotions are normal and natural, but it also builds your child's trust in you.
Additionally, using stories to express emotion builds your child's imagination and creativity. It also helps improve their language and communication skills. Getting in touch with our emotions is vital to success in life. It allows for self-reflection, personal growth, empathy for others, and connects people. It is perfectly natural to feel anger, sadness, joy, love, or any of the other human emotions. Asking your child to suppress those emotions isn't natural, and will only harm them in the long run.
Emily Taylor is a graduate student in General-Experimental Psychology at Western Carolina University. She intends to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and it is her goal to work with individuals who suffer from affective disorders. Emily has worked with children of all ages for over 10 years; she has also tutored college students and served as a mentor.