501 Life Magazine | Emotional health and kids
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Emotional health and kids

by Brittany Gilbert

Emotions in babies are fairly simple: happy, sad, angry, afraid. As kids grow and experience the world, their emotions begin to develop and get more complex. It’s easy to see your child develop physically, but emotional development is happening below the surface, and children don’t always know how to express themselves. 


A child’s close family, especially parents, act as a compass for a child when it comes to how they learn the appropriate way to express these emotions. Parents are their children’s first teachers in so many ways, emotions included. It’s up to us as parents to establish our homes as a safe place for our kids to develop emotionally. 

In January, we lost my father-in-law, and my kids lost their Papa. He was the kind of grandpa who was really involved. He would babysit, change diapers, tickle, show up for games, etc. He was everyone’s favorite. Explaining this huge loss to a 5- and 3-year-old was a daunting challenge. 

Not to mention, our 5-year-old is very tender hearted. I was so nervous about how to approach this conversation with him. I knew that he would feel the loss very deeply, but his emotions and his understanding would not be at the same level. It took some research as well as reaching out to mentors to figure out a game plan. 

Here are some tips for understanding your children at an emotional level and working with them through different struggles they may face.

Be a role model. 

Our kids are always looking up to us for how to handle situations. We are not only their compass, but we also set the temperature in our home. If we don’t allow ourselves to process situations and emotions, our kids won’t know how to, and it could lead to trouble. When you notice that you lose your temper, apologize and let your child know what happened. “I’m sorry, I lost my temper. I got really frustrated about __, but I shouldn’t take it out on you.” I know that I have had to explain to my kids at least a few times lately that I was crying because I was overwhelmed. I can imagine it’s a relief to a child to know that they aren’t the only one who gets overwhelmed with an emotion. They aren’t alone, and that’s always a good thing to hear and realize. 

It’s OK to feel however you are feeling. 

We have to let our kids know that their emotions are there for a reason. Those emotions are telling us something about ourselves. Sometimes our 5-year-old will stop playing and get really sad about losing his Papa. When this happens, he knows that he needs to come tell me so that we can talk about it. I am thankful for these moments when he experiences these emotions.

Otherwise, I wouldn’t know what he’s thinking or how he is handling such a huge loss. We are able to process the moment and really feel it. 

We need to be OK with our feelings, even the really uncomfortable ones. It validates us. When our son gets really sad about losing his Papa, I explain that we get so sad because we love someone so much. 

Help them manage their emotions. 

Our 3-year-old struggles with managing his emotions. But then again, he’s only 3. It makes sense. So, in our house, we sing a lot of Daniel Tiger songs. If you have preschool-aged children, as silly as it sounds, the PBS show “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” is an excellent resource for helping your child with social/emotional development. There are tons of resources available, just through the songs they sing and the situations they play out in the show. 

We have dealt with a child who hits when he’s angry, and it’s because these feelings are so strong that he doesn’t know how to handle them. In these situations, it’s easy to punish because that’s usually what we want to do, especially if the aggressive behavior happens in public where we are easily embarrassed. However, the key is correction and understanding. We need to correct our kid’s behavior and show them the appropriate way to express, or manage, their emotions. 

Your family can decide on a system that works for you, but in our family, we talk through the emotion our kids are feeling. If our child hits, we ask him why and he usually responds with “I’m mad” or “I’m frustrated,” which then prompts more questioning. We just talk through what happened and discuss a better way for him to manage what he’s feeling. 

Ultimately, you want to support your child’s emotional health and development, just as you do their physical health. You teach them how to take care of their bodies with proper hygiene and nutrition, but emotional health is just as important and is usually neglected. One of the best tips I received in our time of grief was to teach my kids to give us a hug whenever they are feeling sad so that we would know how they are doing. A lot of times these feelings go unnoticed or overlooked. Take time to study your children and know what is normal for them as well as look for the things that seem different. This will help you as you help them manage their emotions.


Brittany Gilbert is a former FACS teacher at Maumelle High School. She and her husband, Levi, have two sons and a daughter and live in Conway. Brittany can be reached at b.gilbert37@gmail.com.