Understanding Your Child's Emotions: A Developmental Approach | Catherine Mogil, PsyD | UCLAMDChat

Sharing buttons:

hi welcome to the UCLA health md chat

webinar I'm really excited to be here

today my name is Catherine mogul and i'm

here to talk to you all about

understanding your child's emotions and

we're going to take a developmental

approach as we walk through this today

just a reminder to please ask questions

on twitter using the hashtag sorry

hashtag md UCLA md chat and i will be

happy to answer questions towards the

end of this webinar and we're going to

just get started right off the bat with

a video of a tantrum so we can kind of

all bring ourselves into the mind of the

child into the mind of a parent


I think every parent can probably relate

to that moment when you just are about

to enter that power struggle with your

child and it's really hard work to be

able to manage helping your child

through some tough emotions while at the

same time setting a limit or a boundary

with them and so I just think this quote

from John Bowlby really sums it up that

your parenting is such hard work that if

we really do value our children we

simply must cherish our parents and this

is perfect timing because we're just

coming off of mothers day in May and

heading into June for Father's Day and

so it just really important I think that

we remember that parenting is such tough

work and perhaps the hardest job that

most of you have in life so parents can

start with talking to their kids about

four basic feelings there's clearly a

lot more feelings that exist but these

four basic feelings seem to be the most

universal that most people can relate to

and most people experience in everyday

life so the four most basic feelings we

have here are mad sad scared and happy

and a parent's job is really complex

when it comes to emotions because these

feelings can be along a continuum so if

you can think of feelings along a

feeling thermometer there's really a

range of feelings so for example happy

there's a range of feelings from

tent or joyful all the way up to

ecstatic or format you can be a little

bit mad you could be annoyed or

frustrated or you could be really really

really mad and furious and most kids

don't have the ability at a young age to

figure that out what are the different

ranges of emotions and a parent's job is

really to help them with that to help

expand their emotional vocabulary and

the way that they can put into words how

they're feeling in the moment so we're

going to start with infants and think

about a parent's job when it comes to

raising an infant in terms of emotional

development the task of infancy is

really to bond with a caregiver and to

understand that their needs are actually

important and really in infancy children

come into this world without the ability

to fully regulate they rely on their

caregiver for that so things like

feeding they rely on a caregiver to feed

them diaper changes sleeping they need a

parent to maybe help themselves soothe

so that they can get to bed so we think

of parents as the external regulator of

the child's emotions and in that the

parent even in the first six months is

teaching the child about feelings so

every time the parent responds to their

infants cues and meets a need and can

give them some pleasure which is sort of

one of the emerging emotions in infancy

the child learns about feelings and

about feeling States so just an example

of this is that a child's smile they

don't come into the world smiling but

after a few days and only a few days

they do smile but this smile is actually

more of a reflexive smile it's something

that just happens with the neurons in

the child's brain that sends off a note

to the rest of their body when they read

someone else's smile so when the

caregiver smiles at them they smile back

it doesn't actually hold emotion yet

until over the course of the first six

months of life the parent starts

teaching them that and that there is an

emotion tied to it of course this isn't

verbal teaching

turns aren't saying necessarily you're

smiling you must feel happy but what

happens is when the parent smiles back

at the child there's all these neural

chemicals that go off in the brain and

helps with bonding and a whole other

host of development that makes the brain

develop and grow and that's where over

time over the first six months the child

will learn that when I smile I actually

feel something they don't know that that

word is happy yet and then they move

into toddlerhood and what happens with

kids in toddlerhood is they start

walking they start exploring they're

becoming independent and here they

actually learned that there's

consequences for their actions they

learn to respond to their parents

negative cues and so what this means is

as they're exploring and going out in

the world toddling around they

inevitably come in contact with some or

dangerously close to some sort of danger

right maybe it's a cord that's on the

floor or the corner of a table or a plug

and the parents go no don't stop it and

all of this kind of introduced a shame

for the child and I'll shame not

necessarily being a bad thing it

actually helps the child to know oh I

need to stay away from that plug or I

need to stay away from the corner of

that table but for the first time

parents are sort of introducing these

negative words to their child because up

until now they've probably been

celebrating every first step every every

time the baby has reached for something

and gotten it the parents have really

celebrated that so they're also learning

about pride and being proud of

themselves at the same time then come

the preschool years and what's happening

during the preschool years is that the

frontal lobe is really developing a lot

more where the kids are gaining more

control over their limbic system which

is basically our feelings Center and

they're also learning to talk and use

more words so as their vocabulary

expands their ability to put emotion

emotional states into words expands and

so here is where you start seeing

just mad sad happy and scared you start

seeing things like excited and so kids

start understanding a little bit more

that there's a difference between two

feeling States and here they also start

paying attention more to the feelings of

others so empathy starts to emerge and

this is really mostly in the context of

their caregivers that they are able to

read other people's feelings States it

may not happen with a complete stranger

yet at this point and once kids move

into school age and they start going to

kindergarten first grade they really end

on they continue to develop emotional

awareness emotional expression but here

is where some of the regulation of

feelings comes in they start learning

coping skills they also start improving

what's called theory of mind which in a

nutshell is the child's ability to see

the world from another person's point of

view that they can imagine that you know

even though I liked stumbling upon this

turtle that my parent looked scared and

so maybe my parent didn't think that

that was okay and so here is where mixed

emotions come up they start learning

that you can actually have two emotional

experiences to the exact same stimulus

and that's really important for further

development of empathy and also for them

to be able to imagine a different

feeling state so later in life if

they're sad they also know that they can

get through that sadness because they

have coping skills and they can imagine

feeling happy again and then adolescents

hits and in adolescence it's in a way

we've gone back to the two year old

who's just learning to walk we have

adolescents who are really trying to

gain independence from their caregivers

they are maybe having the first job they

have best friendships their friendships

really emerged as the context in which

they're learning about themselves and

others and they start having more

abstract thinking so they can think

about all the complexities of this world

and with that can come some negative

feeling some anxiety some sadness as

they contemplate their role in the world

what life means all of these more

abstract or even more existential things

they also will develop at this at this

stage what we call emotional autonomy in

other words they really realize that I

don't have to feel something just

because my mom or my dad feels it so

they feel intentionally sometimes

different from their caregivers they're

very aware that just because my mom or

dad or someone close to me my caregiver

said that I should be happy I don't

necessarily feel that way and this can

be hard as a parent because your child

starts feeling something different from

you you're not necessarily as in sync as

you once were perhaps but all of this

goes back always to parents and I like

this visual because it really shows that

the individual we as human beings

everything we experience feel do the way

we act on this world is all in the

context of other systems so that can be

school systems healthcare systems but

the most kind of prominent one is the

family system and so we really need to

think about and hold in mind the family

system when we're thinking about the

individual or the child and again this

goes to the importance of caregivers so

what can you as a parent do to help

expand your child's emotional

thermometer how can you help them

develop a lot of coping skills so that

when life brings them disappointment

they have their first break up or they

have a fight with a best friend or they

get yelled at by their boss what are the

skills that you want them to have and

all of this really starts the most basic

building block here for the parent to

teach this is a tune mminton min is

really a system of communication between

the parent and child it's a way that the

child expresses something maybe its

dissatisfaction maybe it's I got my hand

stuck in a chair and I can't get it

out or maybe it's a bid for the parents

attention ah and it's like mom I want

your attention right now I need you I

want you so the parents role here is

really to observe their child read the

cue and decode the queue which sometimes

is the hardest part and then respond to

it and when this happens the child then

signals back to the parent that was

exactly what I needed or hey that wasn't

quite what I needed i'm still distressed

and that then sends this back and forth

between the parent and child sometimes

we call it a serve and return interplay

between the parent and the child but

this is really the key element so that

the parent can pay attention to what

triggers their child's of motion and

then be able to respond to different

emotions after a parent has the ability

to really understand what their child

might be feeling it's important to start

labeling those emotions and one of the

easiest ways in the most playful ways to

do this without it feeling like a

teaching moment like a lesson is just to

play with your child when you play with

your child you especially if you're

following their lead and just being

curious about what they are curious

about you are teaching your kids that

you care about what they are thinking

what they're doing you're showing them

that what they do is important and

matters to you and you're also helping

increase their self-esteem a whole host

of really good things that come from a

parent just attending to their child and

some of the easiest ways to show your

child that you're attending to them are

to narrate their play so simply just be

a sportscaster watch what your child is

doing if your toddler is playing with um

I don't know a toy dog that they're kind

of pulling along and making the dog walk

just say I really like how you're making

the dog walk you're trying really hard

at that and you can also reflect a lot

of parents I talked with are really

concerned about their child's vocabulary

and increasing their verbal expression

and sometimes parents will do that

through asking a lot of questions what

noise does this animal make what what

color is this what color is the fire

truck instead of asking questions we can

actually help increase our children's

verbal expression by just reflecting

back what they have said and this is so

simple but if the child says the dog

barked you could say yes the dog barked

and that lets your child also know that

you're paying attention to what he said

and what he said is important to you

here another important task for a parent

is to practice redirecting rather than

saying no don't stop quit not and there

are things that we need to tell our

child not to do there's things that we

need to say don't because there are

immediate dangers but for the most part

it's better to try to avoid those words

in case you really really mean it that

way your child will know when you say

don't run in the street you really need

it and but when you redirect you can try

to just shift your child's attention

come up with a puppet and start playing

with the puppet and make it look really

fun and interacting or say oh look at

this over here and oftentimes that will

work so you can avoid that more negative

way of that we all have to be with our

kids sometimes but you can limit it to

when it's strictly necessary as opposed

to when you're trying to teach and model

emotional labeling so from here once

you've helped your child expand their

vocabulary help them understand feelings

in their body you can practice and teach

positive coping strategies so you know

this you know what your child likes do

you do you know if they really like a

particular game on their iPad or you

know if they really like getting a hug

from a parent when they're upset you

know if they really like to play

basketball so whatever the things are in

this world that bring your child joy and

comfort you can start labeling those and

when your child feels mad or sad you can

say it looks like you feel really

frustrated right now why don't we go

take a break and take three slow deep

breaths or go and play a quick game on

had or go on a walk together the other

thing parents can do is really model

appropriate emotional expression I get

asked this all the time from parents who

are like you know i think i'm supposed

to shield my kids from my feelings and

only show them happy feelings i want

them to think that the world is great

and loving and friendly and those are

all really good goals but what will

happen if a child's only been exposed to

those feelings is one what it does cut

come time for them to have a breakup or

have a fight with a best friend they may

not know how to manage those feelings

you can inadvertently send the message

to your child that only happy and

positive feelings are okay and that's

not what we want we actually want our

children as they grow up to be able to

acknowledge all of the range of emotions

and be able to cope with them so the

first step for that is for the parent to

start expressing a full range of

emotions so you know when a parent is

frustrated with a teller at the bank who

may be made a mistake you can say to

your child I'm really frustrated right

now just putting that emotional label on

the feeling state that your child is

probably observing anyway can be so

helpful to them I actually went into a

first grade classroom and I was teaching

the four basic feelings and I was saying

mad sad happy and scared what do you

think is a red-zone feeling on the

feeling thermometer lling thermometer

and some kids were saying mad or sad and

one kid raised his hand and said

exasperated and I just thought that that

was the best thing that this

six-year-old actually knew that word and

probably he had heard his parents say it

but that's an example of probably a home

that has a wide range of emotional

expression in a verbal way the other

hard task for parents here is that

you've got to keep your cool and this is

probably the hardest thing that most

parents have to do thinking back to the

video we showed at the beginning here of

the tantrum if that parent if they're

feeling thermometer is kind of going up

into the red zone and they're feeling

really emotional

and not using all of their frontal lobes

so not really using all of their ability

to reason and think clearly they may

then start yelling at their child and

the child's already in the red zone too

so it's like no one's really listening

no one's really understanding what the

other one is saying so in these tense

moments where if you look at this

picture you can imagine that probably

this mom is feeling exasperated as she's

trying to direct her child to do

something in her child puts her hands

over her ears so if this mom can instead

of yelling just take a deep breath take

a beat take a moment distance herself

from it just for a half a second to kind

of gain her composure before she goes

over and tries again with her child you

can imagine that the resolution of this

little outburst might go much better so

in addition to parents modeling and

using feeling words we also want parents

to model positive coping strategies so

just like you figure out for your kid

that they like basketball or they like

to go on a walk figure out what works

for you and we have the whole list here

of things that can help you get to green

and they're wide-ranging but it may be

things like taking a bath it may be

calling your sister it may be taking a

walk whatever your coping skill is that

really helps you if you when you use it

label that for your child say you know

what mom got really mad at the bank and

when I came home I called my sister and

I vented and now I feel better or I came

home and I took a deep breath and now

I'm ready to have fun and play with you

again because I was able to calm myself

down this teaches children coping skills

but also teaches them that they don't

have to worry about you the parent if

mom or dad get really upset mom or dad

can take care of themselves and they can

calm themselves down some other ways

that you can practice emotional

regulation in families is you know take

a feeling thermometer print went out and

let your kids color it in and stick it

up on the refrigerator maybe at dinner

each night you can say a red zone in a

green zone moment from the day from each

family member if you don't want to use

the feeling thermometer or red zone

green zone language you can simply say

let's each say our

thumbs-up or a thumbs-down for the day

for younger kids you might take a mirror

a hand mirror and actually practice

making silly faces and mad faces and

scared faces and have your child look in

the mirror and really look at how their

face looks appears in the mirror as

they're making those faces you can also

help kids think about when they feel a

certain feeling we're in their body they

feel it so a lot of kids have heard the

term butterflies in my stomach so you

can use that and say okay what does that

mean sometimes when people get a little

anxious maybe they're nervous because

they have a spelling test the next day

they might have some upset in their

stomach so helping them to label that in

link where in their body they feel

different emotions can be really really

helpful here's just another example of a

feeling thermometer that a child could

color in and just again make it kind of

playful so that it's not all about

sitting down and having a conversation

about emotions also you can do this

through reading and I love this activity

just take a book that has a lot of

pictures in it maybe a lot of pictures

of animals or or human depictions that

have feeling faces and go through a

search through the book and look for

different feelings kind of a scavenger

hunt through the book you can also use

something that's called dialogic reading

which is really just essentially you can

take a picture walk through the book you

don't have to read every word that's on

the page but just turn open the book

open to any page and say what do you see

on this what do you think is happening

on this page what do you think the

tortoise is feeling what do you think

the rabbit is feeling and all of that

are ways that you can weave in emotional

labeling emotional expression so that in

the moment when you're finally having a

tantrum and having to deal with it your

child already knows those feeling words

they already know those coping skills so

you can in the middle of that tantrum

say we need to calm down we need to go

and take three deep breaths and then

we're going to go take a break just like

how mommy takes a break before she calls

her sister because that's what makes

mommy feel better feeling charts can

also be really really helpful this is a

great way just you know if you have

on the refrigerator when your child

comes home you can say how was your day

what feelings did you have today and

it's just a great conversation starter

you can also make a list of coping

skills you can make a list of things

that can help kids get from the red zone

down to the Green Zone so in other words

find their own getting to green

strategies and I just want to end with

acknowledging that we have a lot of

really great programs here at UCLA that

can help teach parents help work with

kids around tough feelings and I put a

few up here and feel free to contact us

if you have any questions we have some

that really focus on infant and parents

that's the family development project we

have some that focus on preschool age

kids the seeds program helping them get

ready for school and the transition into

school and really focuses a lot on

social and emotional development and the

care center that child anxiety

resilience and education and support

center has really great resources for

you and the family star clinic the

family stress trauma and resilience

clinic so here is some contact

information for me if you have any

questions about our Center or some of

the work that we're doing those programs

we're happy to be available to you as a

resource so I would like to open it up

now for any questions that people may

have in a reminder you can ask them on

twitter using hashtag UCLA and d chat

okay we have a great question here does

certain animation or shows help enhance

or regulate my child's emotions well

there's actually a great movie that just

came out this year an award winning

movie called inside out and this movie i

think really takes a good glimpse into

the life of a child and I think for

parents to watch it is really helpful to

see that children's emotions are so

complex and sometimes you're looking at

your kid you're like I don't I just

don't get it what is possibly making

them so sad or so mad but it really can

be a conversation starter if you watch

that movie with your kids I think you

could have a great jumping off point to

some really nice conversations about

their own emotional experiences and

about yours as well I've heard some

parents you know ask about TV or a few

times during this talk I've said you

know let them play for a moment on the

iPad if they have a favorite game and we

certainly don't want to over use that

coping strategy like any coping strategy

we want to have you know a wide range of

them and not overuse any one of them so

for a parent it may be fine to have a

glass of wine but you don't want to over

use that strategy for a child taking a

break it to play their favorite game on

an iPad may be fine for 20 minutes but

don't over use that strategy now that

said there are some great resources and

games that actually have teach feelings

and teach about emotional regulation one

example is an app that we created here

called focus on the go and there's a

version of it for foster families as

well called focus on foster families and

there's just some great games and

activities that can help kids to learn

different feeling words learn coping

skills and figure out some ways that

they strategies they can use to help

themselves calm down also another

question here is mind-body approaches

and are these useful for children and

families and the answer is absolutely

there's a lot of work that's happening

now about using mindfulness even in

kindergarten classrooms and in

preschools anytime you can connect

what's happening in a child's mind you

know what are the feeling states they're

having with their body you're helping

them to identify yet another way that

they can identify when they're triggered

so if you teach them okay what happens

when you feel sad well I start crying

okay so when you have tears in your eyes

that's a cue that you're feeling sad or

I get those butterflies in my stomach

that's a cue that I'm starting to feel a

little nervous so when I feel those

initial triggers in my body what are the

things I can do to calm myself down and

that's where are things like deep

breathing you can take a stuffed animal

and place it on your child's abdomen and

teach deep breathing that way teach them

to bring the breath all the way down

into their stomach and rock the stuffed

animal up and down sometimes I say it's

like rocking the stuffed animal to sleep

on their belly so that's essentially

belly breathing also you know teaching

some of the coping strategies like

exercise let's go on a walk or play

basketball or go on a run those are

other great ways that kids can see that

they can get their energy out and it

teaches them about how their brain and

their body are connected any other

questions okay thank you so much for

this opportunity to share about emotions

and we look forward to hearing more from