Your Story: Helping children understand and manage emotions

THE Daily Examiner has been in touch with Clarence Valley children's counsellor Jodie Johnson about a program she will be running in early September to help adults with better understanding their child's emotions. Below is Ms Johnson's explanation of the program and its benefits. 


Parenting is not an easy job, there is no complete manual with a set of instructions and a licence to upgrade as the child grows and the parenting role changes. One important job of parents is to help children understand and learn to manage feelings and emotions. Children are not equipped with the skills to self regulate or self soothe, it is something they learn from their parents/carers. Feelings can be very powerful and overwhelm adults. For children, managing strong emotions can be even harder as their brains are structured very differently to adult brains.


The adult brain has developed to its full capacity and has the ability to think and feel at the same time, and not become overwhelmed by stressful or distressing situations. Most of the time adults can think their way through a difficulty whilst simultaneously experiencing the feeling e.g. anger or worry or fear. For children their thinking brain (frontal cortex) is still developing and continues to develop until around 25 years of age, so children tend to process most of their experiences and situations through their emotional brain (limbic system).


The emotional brain is activated when we experience feelings and become emotionally aroused. For children when the emotional brain becomes aroused the link between the emotional brain and the developing thinking brain becomes temporarily disconnected, meaning the child cannot think and is caught up in the overwhelming feelings. The emotional brain in a sense hijacks the thinking brain and it cannot come back online until the emotional brain has been soothed. The emotional brain is also in charge of our: fight (verbal or physical); flight (emotional or physical) and freeze (shut down) response, which can explain why children tend to use these strategies to manage feelings they find overwhelming.


Learning to manage emotions or self regulate is an important developmental task for children to meet. Like developmental milestones, such as walking talking, reading etc children have psycho-social development challenges and managing emotions is one of these challenges. Over time and with their parents support children need to learn the skills of managing feelings. When children are young they rely on their parents to help comfort, soothe and problem solve for them, but as they develop and grow they need to learn these skills themselves to be able to explore their world, negotiate social and peer relationships, to learn and to take on new challenges.  Having difficulty managing emotions can impact on a child overall development.


Being able to manage and regulate emotions allows children to have response flexibility, so that they can find creative ways to manage and channel their feelings, they are more likely to be resilient and be able to bounce back from setbacks, they are more likely to take on new challenges and persist with learning new tasks.  Not being able to manage frustration can be a powerful barrier to learning. Understanding and being able to manage feelings could help prevent children developing future problems such as worry turning into anxiety or sadness turning into depression. The more skills and psychological resources children have to face life's emotional challenges the more able they will be to thrive and achieve their potential.


Parents are the best placed people to support and help their child manage and learn about feelings, but it can be hard to know where to start, especially if you have children of varying ages and needs. The workshops on helping children understand and manage emotions offers practical strategies for parents and carers to support their child's emotional development. The workshops have a limit of 12 people to allow parents plenty of time to participate and ask questions.  For more information contact Jodie Johnson 0408 663 551. Bookings essential. 

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