Have you ever noticed how there are many different idioms for negative feelings? I have a pit in my stomach or a lump in my throat, butterflies in my stomach, or a vice around my head. The English language has many different ways to express emotional distress which manifests itself as physical sensations. For children and teens these physical experiences are particularly distressful because they do not have the life experiences to be able to put labels on what is happening to them. I liken it as experiencing a tidal wave of feelings which they feel they could drown in because they are not able to break down their experiences into the building blocks of emotions such as “right now I’m experiencing worry”. Once they are able to put a label on what they are feeling, the feeling becomes much more manageable and understandable and far less overwhelming. Sometimes teens will act out when they are awash in a mix of unfamiliar emotions because they physically feel something is wrong and have no way to express the experience. One way parents can help their children through these difficult learning periods is by labeling their own physical feelings with emotions. An example of this would be telling your kids, in the moment, that your hands are getting clammy because you’re nervous thinking about your upcoming presentation. Or sharing that your heart is starting to pound because you are imagining an upcoming interview and this makes you anxious or nervous. Even better, you can point out when you see your kids having these experiences and give them words for what they are feeling. If your child is crying you can console them and say “Wow, I can see you’re really frustrated”. Or “Johnny you’re tapping your foot more than usual. Maybe you’re nervous about your upcoming baseball game.” Helping break down these feelings into emotions is a gift you can give your children to help them along the difficult road of learning how to manage negative emotions in a healthy way.
Many thanks to Stuart Thomas live talk show TV host + producer with Tucson Access Cox 20/Comcast 74. His show is on every first Friday of the month at 6:30pm.
By Anna Shier, DO
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