As a consultant in the elementary schools, I’m impressed when I hear a teacher let’s call her Ms. Jones-say to an angry, explosive child, “Jamie, can you use your words to tell us what’s wrong, please?” Children like Jamie would otherwise be stuck in their uncontrolled outbursts, which are upsetting to both them and us.
It is difficult for children to put their emotions into words. They are more inclined to have an emotional outburst than to say, “I’m mad at you,” and explain why. Their inclinations are to act out their feelings rather than use words to express them.
Miss Jones is a wise teacher. She knows that if she can help children learn to use words instead of actions to communicate their feelings, they will gain confidence in themselves.
Ms. Jones knows that the most useful response when others hurt our feelings, is to honestly say that our feelings are hurt. By reminding Jamie to use his words, Ms. Jones encourages him and other students to express their emotions in calm and socially acceptable ways rather than blindly acting upon them. She knows that open communication is the cornerstone of strong relationships.
Open communication relies upon listening and being listened to, expressing ideas and feelings and upon reaching a
mutual understanding. When open communication happens in families, parents and children can validate one another’s ideas, emotions, and needs. All members of the family can be empowered.
Note about Younger Children: Because younger children do not distinguish between the emotions and actions of others and their own, they readily assume that others caused their behavior. “He made me do it,” is a frequent allegation by a sibling. When younger children blur boundaries between self and other, they need help in separating the acts of the other person from their own emotional reactions and behavior. Once they’ve learned this, younger children can, as Jamie did, benefit from help in learning to use their words.