How do I talk to my kids about their emotions?
This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner and author of A Kids Book About Emotions, Nakita Simpson. It has been edited for clarity.
What are emotions?
Emotions are mental reactions marked by strong feelings and usually causing physical effects. So to walk you through that, it's a mental reaction such as anger or fear or joy, marked by strong feelings, such as happy or livid, and usually causing physical effects.
This is no ordinary book about emotions, although it is a little about treating all emotions as ordinary, not strange or shameful or something to hide or be embarrassed about feeling.
So I wanted to make a tool, make a book, make a conversation starter, so that way a lot of families, a lot of homes could even start talking about that it's not just mom, dad, aunt, uncle, guardian, teacher. Sometimes days at school are really tough and kids may not have the words or tools to know how to communicate that. So if a grownup and a little one want to have the opportunity to talk about that and figure out how to process it together, this book would be the first place to start doing that.
When I was little... I have always been pretty sensitive. And for many years, [I] thought that was a negative thing. I thought it made me feel a little bit weak or a little bit less than my peers. I felt like I had to be a little more tough, but that just didn't change. My mom recognized that really early on.
So she made it a point to make sure to be the best mom that she could, because she wanted to make sure that the life that I had was better than [the life] that she had. And she knew that honoring my emotions and helping me understand that would help better how we have our talks, how we communicate, how we navigate life together as mother and daughter.
And I learned over time that not everyone had the same experience growing up. Especially in a lot of Black homes, a lot of immigrant homes, sometimes emotions and how we feel isn't always the topic du jour.
“Du jour” is French. It means “of the day”. So when Nakita says “how we feel isn’t always the topic du jour,” she’s saying that talking about how we feel isn’t always to all people the most important topic to talk about.
And it's also parents learning how to be a parent and also to be an adult while managing life and making a life better for them for their kids too—while not always having all the tools available like therapy; which a lot of kids should be able to have to talk about their emotions.
Everyone manages emotions differently. Every home manages emotions differently. Emotions look different from one person to the next, and from one place to the next. That doesn’t make emotions right or wrong. What it does mean though is sometimes it can be harder for certain people to get support when they are struggling with difficult emotions.
For a lot of Black and brown homes it's not always the easiest to process, or even have it out in the open to talk about your feelings or emotions. In my own experience, my mom had to focus on worrying about making sure that I had a bed to sleep in, a roof over my head, food on the table.
And it's also another involved level of being a parent that a lot of parents that were learning how to be a parent didn't always consider. And they didn't also have the resources to do that.
And a lot of immigrant homes, sometimes it's a language barrier for people moving into the States, and I know there's a lot of different issues, like the areas that you grow up in, the schools that you go to, or the access to resources that most people have. Not every family is going to have resources available for a therapist. Thankfully we're getting better now, but that's just still a reality.
I think a lot of Black and brown homes just really need the support and we're getting a lot better now, but I think that was definitely a strong point of tension that makes it difficult. But I think we're getting better now where we're centering mental health, we're centering resources. So that way people can do that more.
We received a number of questions from listeners about emotions. Today we’re hearing from Pablo Andrés in Oregon. He was thinking a lot about emotions and asked, I wonder why you have to deal with them sometimes?
Well first, thank you so much for your question, Pablo. That is a great question. And I hope you are having a wonderful day whenever you hear this. And to answer your question. We have to deal with emotions because they are natural. They are different states of being, which means they're very much a part of how we feel things, how we experience the world, and how we react to the world that we live in.
That's why we have to deal with them. Some people experience emotions very strongly. Some people don't really experience emotions at all. They do help tell us how we are reacting to the world that we live in.
They teach us a lot of things about ourselves. They help us create our identity, or who we are, and they help us understand the people that we are around a lot better.
For me, whenever I experience an emotion I don't want to deal with, I try to stop everything that is around me. I take a moment. I try to breathe. I try to think about what I'm feeling. I ask a lot of questions that start with “why.” Why am I angry? Why is this making me feel this way? Why can't I stop feeling it? And then some “what” questions: What can I do to make myself feel better? What can I say to myself or to whomever is making me feel this emotion to change the outcome of how I'm feeling?
And I try to do a little practice here and there if I don't have the chance to ask too many questions. Maybe it's a timeout for myself. Maybe it's taking some time to doodle or to draw how I feel, and those different steps can help you get through feeling the things that you don't want to feel to a better place of feeling the way that you want to feel.
Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. This week, we have Nakita Simpson, author of A Kids Book About Emotions.