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Divorce, separation, and coParenting can be a difficult adjustment for everyone involved but teaching our children about feelings helps them to create a sense of self and a way to express emotion in a healthy way. Helping a child to discover themselves and the world around them, while building strength and confidence, teaches the child how to live in a society with success. Kathy Eugster offers insight on this subject here on this page. There are basic steps coParents can take while teaching the importance of feelings:
Help Children Identify Feelings
Help your child notice different feelings by naming various feelings they may experience. Explain how people should show their feelings (through faces, bodies, and words) and that showing your feelings in a healthy way is an important way for others to understand you. Help your child notice how different feelings “feel” in his or her own body; for example tight hands, butterflies in the stomach, etc.
Provide Open Opportunities for Communicating About Feelings
It is helpful for children to talk about their feelings. However, talking about feelings is not easy for children, especially when they are asked directly. It is important for coParents to watch and listen carefully for the times when a child does express feelings, either directly through words or indirectly through behaviors. At these times, you can help your child by acknowledging and accepting their feelings by simply reflecting them back to them and refraining from providing advice or asking questions. When a child’s feelings are criticized, disapproved of, or not accepted by a parent, their internal sense of self is weakened.
Teach Relaxation Skills
Learning relaxation skills will help children feel better when they are anxious, worried or scared. It will also help them learn that they have control over their own bodies rather than being controlled by their anxiety.
One way to help your child relax is to encourage slow, deep breathing. You can help your child practice this by getting them to imagine slowly blowing bubbles. Another way to relax is to ask them to alternately tense and relax their muscles. You can also help your child use their imagination to relax. Help your child to imagine a safe and relaxing place and to notice the good relaxing feeling in their body. Or, have them imagine a container (such as a big box) to put their worries in so they are not running wild in their mind.
Provide Soothing and Comforting Strategies
Comforting and soothing a child helps relieve anxiety. These strategies communicate to the child that he or she is safe and cared for. Verbal reassurances of safety and love, rocking, cuddling, holding, singing, and telling stories are just some of the soothing and comforting strategies that coParents can use. Parents may be surprised to realize that children sometimes need comforting and soothing that seems to the parent to be too “babyish” for the child’s age. However, anxious children do need extra soothing experiences that relax and relieve the tension they experience.
Encourage “Feel Good” Activities
When children are anxious, encourage them to engage in activities they enjoy such as playing with a favorite toy, doing a fun arts and crafts activity, doing something active outside, playing a game, reading a book, or playing with friends. Children will often need the assistance and attention of their parents to engage in these fun activities if they are anxious.
There are many children’s books available that deal specifically with anxiety, fears, and worries. These books can be very helpful for children as the stories will often model various ways of coping with fears and anxiety. When searching for books, use keywords such as anxiety, worry, fear, scary, scared, shy, etc.