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Acknowledging children’s emotions

Date: March 5, 2019 Author: hpelc Categories: Advocacy Blogs, Parenting Blogs, Reflection Blogs

By Natalie Bartlett

How many times have you heard a child referred to as a “drama queen” or “sensitive”, because they cry often? What about hearing someone tell a child to “stop crying” or say “you’re fine, nothing’s wrong”? How about the phrase “they’re just crying for attention”?

Crying is a way of communicating for young children. We know that they might cry when they’re hungry, tired, overwhelmed, overstimulated, hurt or because they want something. Even children with greater levels of verbal communication will still cry as a way of communicating, they are still learning to articulate their feelings and sometimes they simply don’t know what to say.

If you were upset about something do you think you would like hearing some of these phrases that people so often say to children or in regards to children?

We all know how hard it can be hearing a child cry. We can feed them, change their nappy, give them a bottle, give them a cuddle, take them to a different room/environment and yet sometimes they just don’t stop. At this point you’ve tried everything and this is where people tend to use those phrases, where they beg a child to just stop crying or where children become labelled as a crier or a drama queen.

But is there another way? When a child cries we think of everything they might need and try and give it to them in the hope that one of those things might be the key. But what about simply acknowledging their feelings? For infants and toddlers, without the ability to communicate verbally you could try “I can see that you’re feeling upset right now, I’m here for you”,

For older children who have better verbal communication you could try “I can see that you’re upset right now, would you like to talk about it?”

Sometimes this works the first time, sometimes you have to repeat it to really ensure that the child feels understood and supported. This can also be a great way to go into trying to assess their needs by following up with “Are you feeling hungry/tired?” or something similar.

This can also work for supporting children during conflicts with others. If they’re upset because someone has the toy they want you could try: “I can see you’re upset because you want to play with ____. (Child) is using it right now, maybe I could help you find another?”

Remember that crying is a form of communication and we should be responding through our own communication.