Mad, Sad, Glad: How to Help Kids Begin to Process Their Emotions

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How in tune are you with your emotions? Do you give yourself time to label your emotions, to process them, and to reflect on them? It seems like such a simple task, knowing our emotions, but so often it’s harder than it seems.

Honestly, I struggle to make time for myself time to feel, reflect and process my day and what I’m feeling. It’s such a bummer, too, when I don’t make time because it makes such a massive difference in my life; it should be something I prioritize. Heck, it something we should all prioritize.

When I’m in a healthy space, more cognizant of my emotions, I notice that I’m doing several things differently in my life. These are things that aid in my ability to feel, to process and to reflect on my emotions. I’m usually spending more time with God, talking more openly with my husband and close circle of friends, and practicing yoga or running more – my time to feel and just be. As an adult, I’ve learned over the years what works for me; the things I need to do and practice to stay in a healthy place emotionally. It’s a learned skill for sure.

How about our kids though? Do they process their emotions? Can they label them? Do they know how to process them? I’m guessing some of you might be saying yes, some no, and some I don’t know. Just as labeling, processing and reflecting on your emotions is a learned skill for adults, it is very much a learned skill for kids, too.

How To Help Kids Begin To Process Their Emotions:

This subject has actually been a very prominent conversation in our home lately. Although raised in the same home, our girls are wildly different when it comes to processing, identifying and expressing their emotions. Both of our girls are “feelers,” but very different types of feelers.

Emma Grace is very sensitive, and she’s an open book. She has a high EQ and is able to label her emotions well. She talks a lot and is constantly sharing with us what happened in her day and how it made her feel; she openly looks to us for advice on how to process her emotions. We rarely have to guess what’s going on with her or what she’s feeling.

Abigail on the other hand, although equally as sensitive, is not nearly as open. At this stage in her life, she struggles to label her emotions and is often closed-lipped when it comes to how she’s feeling and what’s happened during her day. We can tell she has big feelings, but she can’t always express them with ease.

With Emma Grace in 3rd grade (hormones starting to come into play) and Abigail struggling to identify and process her emotions, Travis and I have had a lot of discussions about how we can help them. We want to model for them and give them tools to use to help them label their emotions, process them, and reflect on them all the while creating a safe space for them to do so.

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One of the things Travis suggested we introduce to our girls was “Mad, Sad, Glad.” It’s a way for us to model how to label and process emotions. It also gives our girls the opportunity to participate, too, at their own comfort level. It is such an easy exercise and something everyone could incorporate to their home!

At a designated time – for us it’s right before bedtime – you go around the room and each person shares something from their day that made them mad, sad, or glad. Although you could share something for each one, you are only required to share one feeling.

So, the first step is to tie an emotion, a label, a to your feeling. For example, “I felt glad because it was my friend’s birthday.” The second step is to explain WHY that made you feel the mad, sad or glad. Following the same example, the reason you felt glad that it was your friend’s birthday is because it seeing your friend happy makes you happy. The second part is so important because it helps your child connect to their emotion and understand it more fully.

Y’all, we’ve only been doing this exercise for a couple weeks, but it’s proving to be effective. Travis and I have tried to model each emotion for them and in turn, they are sharing more than just “glad.” Some days the girls give a simple explanation, and others we get a full report. It’s been fun to process with them and see them begin to open up more and connect more with themselves. We are so excited to see where this exercise takes us in the future!

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