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  • Kathryn Wright

The Importance of Reflecting Feelings

Parents bring their children to me for a variety of reasons and what each child is going through may be very different and unique to them; however, there is a skill that I use with every child I meet. That skill is reflective feelings. No matter the situation, every child can make progress from the use of reflective feelings. Please watch the video below for more information on reflective feelings, why  I use this technique so often, and the benefits of incorporating reflective feelings into your daily life. 


You can use reflective feelings to help your children to identify their emotions and therefore learn to control their emotions and their behaviors. Reflective feelings is when you verbalize what the child is feeling to them.  You would start with "you", then the emotion, and then the validator or the reason why.  Step One: You Step Two: Emotion being expressed Step Three: Validator or reason why  An example of this would be: "You are really sad right now because your brother took your teddy bear." "You are really angry at me because you can't go to the park." "You are really excited because grandma and grandpa are coming over later." Sometimes you may not know the reason why your child is feeling the way that they are.  So, you could say: "You are really angry at me right now." "You are really sad."  "You are having a difficult time right now."  "You are really happy."  It's important that your tone and your facial expressions match what you are verbalizing to the child. Reflective feelings helps our children to build their emotional vocabulary. By giving children a variety of reflective responses we are helping to broaden their emotional vocabulary and therefore we are giving them a better understanding of what they're feeling. When children have a better understanding of what they are feeling they can accept it, and therefore learn to control it. Children have a difficult time understanding that emotions are on a spectrum. They have the basic understanding of happy, mad, scared, and sad, but they do not understand disappointed, frustrated, annoyed, aggravated, excited, pleased, or terrified. By using a variety of responses, we are helping to give our children this understanding, and then their body will know what is happening when they feel this, and they do not feel like they need to panic or act out in the negative behaviors that you may be seeing. As humans we all need to feel heard, understood and validated. That is what reflective feelings is doing for our children. It is letting them know that we are there with them; we understand what they are going through. We may not agree with their behavior, but we understand the emotion that they are feeling. It is important to remember that all emotions and feelings are valid, however, the behavior may not be. We want to meet our children with where they are in that moment, and that is what reflective feelings do. We are letting them know "we are here with you" and "we see that you are struggling", or "we see that you are happy and excited." Reflected feelings also gives children, a different perspective of their emotions and this helps them to learn how to regulate their emotions. Children have a difficult time verbally expressing their emotions, and they tend to communicate through behaviors. That is why we see them often acting out or becoming dysregulated; it is because they cannot verbally tell us what they are going through, so they are trying to show us. By doing reflective feelings we are helping to give them the words for what they are feeling, so in the future they will be able to develop this skill, and be more likely to verbalize it to you.  Since they are unable to verbalize their emotions right now, it is important to watch their nonverbal cues.  Some nonverbal cues that you may see may be physical changes (their face may get really red, their eyes may get really wide, they may start shaking or sweating, they may get dysregulated, jumping up and down, or get really hyper) You may also see behaviors (they may become more aggressive, anxious, clingy defiant or withdrawn). These are all examples of how your child may be feeling. When doing reflective feelings, it is important to look into your child's eyes so that you can truly understand the emotion they are going through and correctly reflect it back to them.  As adults and parents, we often tend to ask questions. If we have enough information to ask a question, then we most likely have enough information to make a statement. Instead of saying "are you mad right now?" You would say "you are feeling angry right now."  Oftentimes as adults and parents we feel the need to change what is happening. So, we will say things like: "It's okay." "Don't cry." "Don't worry." "It's going to be all right." This is not validating our child's feelings, and oftentimes it frustrates them because they feel as though we are minimizing what they are going through.  Now that you have a better understanding of reflective feelings, how they work, why they are so powerful and work so well for children, it is important to remember the simple formula on how to do reflective feelings: You would start with "you", then the emotion, and then the validator or the reason why.  Step One: You Step Two: Emotion being expressed Step Three: Validator or reason why Example: "you are really excited that we get to go to grandma and grandpa's." Throughout the day, as you're at home with your children, look for different ways that you can use reflective feelings at any point of time, no matter the emotion that your child is feeling. Help to build that emotional vocabulary for your children and help you to get a better understanding of what your children are going through. If you have any questions on reflective feelings and how they may work for you and your family, please do not hesitate to reach out.  Kathryn Wright, MSW, RCSWI ISW 12610

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