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If your tween can explicitly communicate what they are feeling, there is less chance of misunderstandings.

Tweens grapple with a lot of big feelings.  It can be confusing for us to witness – one minute our child might be giggling and enjoying themselves and the next they might be furiously storming off to their room for what feels like no reason – but it can also be confusing for them.  They may be just as perplexed as you are about what they are reacting to and why their reaction is so extreme.  They may also be concerned that there is something wrong with them – not only can they recall a time just a few years earlier where they likely weren’t as volatile, but we often unintentionally contribute to this feeling by implying or saying that their reactions are inappropriate or out of sync with the matter at hand.  For more on this, check out Dr.  Lisa Damour’s new book, The Emotional Lives of Teenagers.  

All of this is why asking your tween, “How does that make you feel?,” often results in them saying, “I don’t know.”  Because they don’t.  Or more to the point, they may know how they are feeling, but they struggle to put a name to it.  Being able to communicate what we are feeling is such an important skill, both in real life and online.  So how can you help your child be their own “emotion detective” and identify what they are feeling?

You can start helping your tween to develop or expand their emotional vocabulary so that they can label their feelings.  As your child matures, you can elaborate on this concept by talking about how we can feel more than one thing at a time (I can be both excited and nervous about starting at a new school; I can feel scared and eager about riding a roller coaster; I can be angry and ashamed that my friend saw my stuffed animal collection).  You can also talk about how our initial emotional response is often reactive, but if we choose to be reflective, we can start to access the underlying emotions that are involved.

When we stop to consider the depth and complexity of our feelings we start to know ourselves better. 

What does knowing ourselves better have to do with being safe and responsible online?  Connecting with our feelings means that we can be more self-aware when interacting online. 

For example:

  • I can know if what I want to communicate needs to be said in person; 
  • I can know if I’m being triggered by something I’m seeing online and need to unfollow;
  • I can be in tune with how I feel before and after I play a game or use an app, in order to assess if I want to continue using it.  

Ways to help your tween build their emotional vocabulary

  • Use lots of emotion words in your own life!
  • Use yourself as an example.  Narrate your emotions.  For example, “I’m feeling so angry about what this person said to me.  I think it upset me so much because I feel really vulnerable about the thing they pointed out.” 
  • Break the “How are you feeling?” habit!  Try saying something like,  “Wow, I can imagine a whole bunch of emotions that might be happening inside you right now, can you name a few?”

Don’t just follow your kids online.  Lead them.