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Little People, Big Emotions By: Katie Pelant, MAC CIT

I’m certain that all of us adults can recognize that the wide range of feelings we experience can look and feel very different from person to person. That is true of the difference in how we react to those feelings as well. And while both of these statements are true of adults, they are also true of our world’s younger humans. Kids handle the same feelings that adults experience very differently than adults, and also other kids their age. The important fact to acknowledge is that, just like how adults are all their own individuals, kids, no matter what age, are also their own little individuals, with their own brains and their own bodies. Once we grasp this fact, it will greatly benefit the process for both adults and kids, to figure out what a child needs to cope when they are experiencing the vast range of feelings that they feel.

As adults, we have had years of experience with different situations that provoke different emotions. We have had a long time to trial and error what reaction works best for us to cope with a feeling. For kids, because of the lack of years of experience adults have, they need some help from their caring, experienced adults surrounding them. We all know that oftentimes, it can be difficult for us to decipher a child’s brain to help them communicate feelings. Trying to figure out what they are feeling, why they are feeling that way, and what they need to not feel that way anymore can be tough, especially if it isn’t the way that we would handle the same thing. Sometimes, we even attempt to convince them they are reacting the wrong way, or they are feeling the wrong feeling. But something to keep in mind is; as hard and confusing as it is for us to understand a child’s feelings and reactions, it is just as hard or even harder for the kiddo to understand. However, in this confusion and difficulty, it can be very helpful to remember the fact that, like adults, ultimately, they are humans experiencing a shared feeling that we have worked through before. Knowing this, a good starting place in navigating feelings and what a kid needs to handle a feeling, is pulling from our own several experiences with how we’ve tried to handle that same feeling. But also accepting that out of the variety of reactions and needs we have tried and model, the one that most helps us may not be the one that helps that kiddo, and that’s perfectly ok. Why? Because of the fact that they are their own individual with individual needs.

I can speak with confidence that all kids and all adults have experienced the feeling of being frustrated at some point or another. So, let’s take a closer look at our feelings of frustration to process what it might look like to help a younger human figure out what they could need when they experience frustration and don’t know how to cope. Think of a time when you have felt frustrated. Did you need some time away from that person or that situation to process and cool down by yourself so that you can come back to the situation a little more collected? Does it help you more when a caring person is silent and just lends a listening ear to your feelings, allowing you to vent and process outloud? Or, do you need someone to speak up and walk through the feeling with, giving advice or somehow relating with what you are feeling? Maybe it took a lot of trial and error to finally figure out what best helps you in dealing with frustration. While it is still unpleasant to feel frustrated, it is very helpful knowing how to handle that feeling and how to cope.

When a child is experiencing frustration, or any other feeling, and doesn’t know what to do, these are chances for them to start building those years of experience that we adults have with trial and error finding what works best for them in coping. These are also opportunities for us adults to remind ourselves that we are not in charge of telling a child what feeling is correct to feel in certain situations or the correct way for them to react and respond. Just like with the adults in our lives that we allow to handle feelings in the best way that works for them, we need to do our best to do the same for the younger humans in our lives. We need to remember that kids also need time and guidance in navigating what they are feeling and how to respond that best works for them. Why? Because while they might be littler than us adults, they are also individuals, with their own brains and their own bodies, and their own individual needs.

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