Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How to help my child express his or her feelings

You may have noticed your child is a little reluctant to talk about his or her feelings, and this may be especially common among children who were born with this “generous-and-kind” nature. I am talking about children like my daughter, who always says "please" and "thank you", helps around the house, and acts concerned about other people's feelings and looks just a little shy. 

Perhaps you have realized too, that your child tends to please others even at the expense of postponing his or her own needs and, you are a worried because you have seen other preschoolers “taking advantage” of your child’s kindness. 

I call this “Need of Assertiveness”. That is, the ability to stick up for their rights and feelings, with self-confidence.

how to help my child express his or her feelings
Good news: There are little changes you can do that will bring great results within days, while the effect will last for a lifetime. 

Assertiveness is a huge asset. If your child wasn’t born with it, you still can help him or she has it. In the classroom, assertiveness puts children at an advantage because it makes them feel comfortable commanding the teacher's attention, raising their hand if they know the answer, and asking for extra help if they are lost. It also helps them have an easier time making friends since they won't hesitate to say: "Hey, can I play too?"

These are my 7 Tips. They work in tandem: they help your child talk about his or her feelings and, they help you nurture your child’s assertiveness:

1) Share your own feelings with your child. Please DO turn OFF your phone
When we are having dinner, I play this little game I made up for my child. I call it One-by-One. I say: “Me first: I will tell you one thing I like about my job and one thing I don’t like about it. Then, it is your turn: you tell me one thing you like about today and one thing you don’t like about it”. Be honest when you talk about your feelings. For example: “I liked a new trick I learn on the computer, I felt happy. I didn’t like my boss forgot to say hello to me. I felt sad and mad”.  

2) Be ready to help when your child shares his or her feelings
Your child needs to feel you are on his or her side to help. So, you must do something with the information your child is sharing with you. Sometimes, children will need only some advice, a rewarding pat on their back or your arms to cuddle in. But there will be other times in which your ACTION will be needed. For example: When we were playing One-by-One, my daughter said: “I liked playing in the snow with my friends at Pre-K. I don’t like a girl who took away the phone from me. I was playing”. I was thinking about what to say to her, and then she added: “Mommy, I don’t know how to defend myself. Can you teach me?”. I replied right away: “Of course I will”.

In case you’re wondering, I spent hours awake at night thinking about how to help her. The morning was just a few hours away and I honestly had no idea on how to teach my child how to defend herself. The answers I found on the web were just not good enough. So, I ended up making a specially tailored self-defense plan training for my daughter who, by the way, does not speak English.   

3) Make it a Top Priority for your family
In our case, Language is a barrier that needs to be tackled right away. So, for the time being, I just threw away my expectations and plans for her to be a Bilingual Child. We are practicing self-defense phrases at home and talking mostly in English to help her. For us, her need to learn to defend herself, her need for assertiveness is more important that our need for her to be bilingual. So, please revise your Top Priorities Checklist and adjust accordingly.

4) Become a Role Model on Assertiveness
“How to stick up for your rights” or “How to defend yourself” is something we learn at home, from imitating our parents, caregivers and/or older brothers and sisters. What are you teaching your child by example? How do you defend yourself? Watch your body language, the tone and volume of your voice, your words, your “attitude” and your overall reaction when someone tries to take advantage of your own kindness. Your child will imitate “your style”. I felt very bad when I realized I was “submissive”. But I decided to work on it, to evolve, for my child. And it is working. Now I can’t help feeling overly proud of both us.  

5) Leverage on Role Playing
You are responsible for giving your child “resources” to defend him or herself. Practice at home with your child, taking turns. First, your child tries to take the remote control away from you. Teach-through-play. Use simple phrases and make the moves your child can copy to defend himself from others like: “Hey, it is my turn to use this. When I am done playing, I’ll give it you” or “I am not giving it to you because you haven’t said Please”. Then, let your child have the remote control and you try to take it away from him or her. Help your child develop his or her own “memorized-until-spontaneous reactions”, depending on your child’s motor skills, strengths, and weaknesses as well.

6) Show you child the Power of Awareness
“If you share your feelings with me, I will help you. If you don't tell me, how can I know if you need any help?”

7) Get the Teacher involved
Depending on their age, children may need their teachers’ intervention. In Hope’s case, it was more than necessary because of her age and the language barrier. While Hope develops her ability to talk in English, she lets her know her Teacher who is bothering her just by pointing her finger.

Please share with me your thoughts. What else can we do to nurture our child's assertiveness and help them talk about their feelings with confidence?

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