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How to help children express their discontent

Team StoryWeavers|April 07, 2022, 12:28 IST|

Everyone experiences strong emotions and wants to let other people know of their discontent or that they are unhappy. Children are no exception, they want to express their feelings too. However, they may not have access to the right words to express their unhappiness and are likely to get overwhelmed and throw a tantrum instead. Well, this situation can be easily avoided with a simple strategy. 

In this article, we will cover:

  • How to teach children to express their discontent or unhappiness.
  • How to deal with children who struggle to express their discontent or frustration.

How to teach children to express their discontent or unhappiness

Children often resort to throwing a tantrum or any other form of misbehaviour when they cannot find the correct words to express what they feel. Parents can teach their children that there is an effective way of expressing discontent or unhappiness. In the book, A Volcano in My Tummy; Helping Children to Handle Anger, Eliane Whitehouse and Warwick Pudney provide a framework that helps children express themselves. It is basic and can be used by elementary school children in various situations. 

  • I feel ____ (emotion)
  • When _____(action that makes you feel that aforementioned emotion)
  • Because ____ (reason why it makes you feel that way)
  • I would like ____ (action that would stop making you feel that way)

It could look like — I feel angry when you give my toy to someone else because it is my favourite toy. I would like you to stop giving my toys to other children

Reinforcing the structure every time a child expresses discontent or unhappiness will help children express themselves effectively and reduce the chances of misbehaviour eventually. Parents can also download the printable poster below and stick it in the child’s room where it can be easily accessed. 

How to deal with children who struggle to express their discontent or frustration

To reduce the chances of misbehaviour as a result of the child’s inability to communicate, parents need to be calm and consistent. The book, Positive Discipline A-Z: 1001 Solutions to Everyday Parenting Problems, lists a few strategies that can reduce the chances of future misbehaviour. 

  • Little children who do not understand complete words yet, can be taught not to resort to hitting people when frustrated. You can say something like — “people are to be hugged, not hit”. However, at this stage, do not expect them to fully understand what you are saying and supervise them closely. 
  • Children who do understand words can be taught that feelings are different from actions and that unhappiness can be expressed in a healthy manner. “I am angry because…and I wish…” is a simple yet powerful framework that can be taught to children. 
  • Children also need to be told that sometimes we need to step back and calm down when a frustrating situation arises. Once we feel better, we can resume the activity. Parents can also help their children create happy spaces at home to enter into a ‘positive time out.’ 
  • Furthermore, parents can reflect upon their own behaviour to check if they have been unkind to their child unknowingly through acts such as excessive criticising or singling the child out when they were feeling discontent, unhappy, or frustrated. 

Children rarely misbehave with the intention to make your life difficult. They act out when they feel overwhelmed as a result of not being able to verbally express their feelings. Parents can teach children that it is normal to feel angry, sad, unhappy, or frustrated, and that there are constructive ways to deal with such feelings. 

Download the printable poster here. 

Have you used these frameworks before? Do you follow any different frameworks that can help out other parents? Did they work for you? Are you excited to try these out? Drop a line at [email protected] or leave a comment below. 

References

  • Nelsen, J., Lott, L., Glenn, H. S., Nelsen, J. (2007). Positive Discipline A-Z: 1001 Solutions to Everyday Parenting Problems. United States: Harmony/Rodale.
  • Whitehouse, E., Pudney, W. (1996). A Volcano in My Tummy: Helping Children to Handle Anger. Canada: New Society Publishers.

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About the Author


“Me-kha-la!” That happens at least once when she introduces herself to new people. She wholeheartedly believes in the quote by Arthur Rubinstein that says – “if you love life, life will love you back”. She is an organizational psychologist and psychometrician. She was a class teacher of 36 adorable girls for two years, grades 2 & 3, as a part of the Teach For India Fellowship. These little girls have a special place in her heart, and when she writes for children, she writes for them!

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