There are lots of things that may be impacting on how a child or young person is feeling such as:
Strategies that can help:
Mapping emotions on to situations – it is easy to assume that your child understands how they are feeling and why but this may not always be the case. Mapping emotions onto every day situations for your child can help them to relate the words that you use to the feelings that they are experiencing e.g. “I can tell you were really happy about that …”, “I know that you are feeling cross because ……”.
The 5 point scale is a very visual way of working out how much your child is able to identify their feelings and the things that impact on how they feel on a daily basis. The idea is that you start to map situations onto the scale from 1 to 5 with 1 representing things that your child enjoys, makes them feel safe or calm, up to 5 which are the things that send your child into ‘meltdown’, make them really angry or distressed. The experience of doing this is different for each person. Some young people may be very insightful into what makes them feel a certain way, others may need a significant amount of help to try and work this out. You need to have a basic understanding of the core emotions happy, sad, angry and worried before you would attempt to use the 5 point scale.
Comic strips are a great visual tool that can be used to help support a young person’s understanding both of how they were feeling and how the other people in the interaction may also have felt. Using stick people, talking bubbles and thinking bubbles can be really helpful in making the process of talking about feelings simpler and easier.
Feelometers are a good visual tool to help show and explain that feelings can go up and they can also come back down. Many young people can find grading within an emotion more difficult to understand, as their experience of feeling an emotion may be more ‘black and white’. For example they may go from being ‘OK’ to very upset or angry very quickly but not have an understanding of how they got there. Similarly they may go from being distressed to ‘OK’ equally quickly which might sometimes come as a surprise to those around them.
If you do not know how you feel and why, then using words to try and explain this can feel like an impossible task for some young people and can often then be an additional source of frustration and distress.
Even if you do know how you feel, being able to explain this using words can be very difficult, no matter how eloquent you are in other situations. This can be for a number of reasons:
Other factors, such as a young person’s language and learning profile will also play a part.
Strategies that can help:
Feelometers can be a good way of finding out how a young person interprets the meaning of different ‘feeling’ words e.g. on a scale on 1-10 with 1 meaning ‘OK’ and 10 being ‘furious’ a young person might say ‘frustrated” but mean “I am really angry”.
Having a shared understanding of the words that the young person uses to express their feelings is really important so that you know what they mean and can interpret their communication in the right way.
Write down the words that they use and map them onto a feelometer so that you can understand what those words mean to them.
There are alternative and more visual ways of expressing how or what a young person is feeling that do not rely solely on words:
It does not have to be spoken – sometimes a young person might be able to write down how they are feeling but not be able to tell you face to face. There are lots of ways that you can facilitate your young person in doing this, depending on their age, for example:
A worry book where they can write down things about the day that have upset them for you to look at and talk through with them.
They could text you how they are feeling or use the notes section on their phone.
These are just a few ideas and you will need to work out what works best for your young person.
Use comic strips as a visual way of making sense of feelings in situations. Sometimes this is easier for young people with Neurodevelopmental profiles, as the focus is less about a face to face conversation, which can increase the communication demands for that young person, and more about simplifying communication on paper. It also enables you to highlight that people may say something that appears to express one emotion, but think/feel a different emotion. This can be very helpful to develop the young person’s insight into the way in which they communicate and why e.g. “It was too noisy and you wanted to get out so you shouted”. Once there is a shared understanding, you can then build on this to develop the use of alternative strategies for next time e.g. “Next time it gets too loud at the table, you can get down and go into the lounge for 5 minutes".