This guest post was written by Leanne Sherred, M.S. CCC-SLP. Leanne calls Austin, Texas home but studied Speech and Hearing Sciences at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and gained her Master’s in Speech-language pathology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She has worked in pediatric outpatient clinics, schools, early intervention, and home health. Leanne is currently the President and Founder of Expressable, an online speech therapy company that envisions a modern and affordable way for anyone who needs speech therapy to access these vital services.
Every day we use language to express our emotions. We do it naturally, using our words, tone of voice, and intonation, to express ourselves and let others know how we feel.
However, emotions are actually a very complex concept, and many children with speech and language problems often have difficulty regulating their emotions both internally and externally. For young children in particular, communication and behavior are intricately tied together. They are learning how to navigate the world with other people involved while trying to figure out what role they play. Without a voice and ease of communicating, they may start to feel like their role is getting lost.
The challenges faced by children can vary depending on the speech and language difficulties they are experiencing. For example, children with speech sound disorders have trouble pronouncing certain sounds, words, or phrases by an expected age, making them difficult to understand. Many children know exactly what they want to say, but struggle with producing or finding the right words. Stuttering is a common example of a communication obstacle, as is difficulty pronouncing the letter “r” or the sound “th.” An inability to fluently communicate their thoughts can lead to children being shy, withdrawn, or frustrated.
On the other hand, children with a language disorder may also have an idea of what they want to say, but be unable to put their thoughts into words. As you can imagine, this is extremely frustrating. Children can be upset very easily, throw temper tantrums, and generally exhibit unwelcoming behaviors.
In addition to emotional and behavioral issues, speech and language disorders can also affect a child’s social development. Humans are very social creatures, but these interpersonal interactions and relationships are particularly important during the formative years. Children need to learn how to play well with others, understand they can’t always get their way, and be able to compromise. This can be much more difficult if there’s an underlying speech or language impediment.
How Can I Help My Child?
As a parent, it can be challenging to watch your child struggle to communicate their ideas. Know that you are not alone, and many children face similar issues. Fortunately, help is available.
If you think your child has a speech or language problem or if they are exhibiting problematic social or behavioral issues, you should speak with your primary care provider. Most likely they will refer you to a speech-language pathologist, or SLP for short. Speech-language pathologists are the most qualified professionals to help evaluate, diagnose, and treat communication issues.
Teaching Children to Express Their Emotions at Home
As a parent, you are best positioned to help your child learn to manage their emotions. While your doctor or speech and language therapist can help treat the root cause, and offer tips and support, ultimately no one spends more time with your child than you. These techniques should be constantly practiced and reinforced at home to make progress.
Below I have included a few proactive strategies parents can use in the comfort of their home to educate their children and help regulate their emotions:
Build Strong Parent-Therapist Relationships
Speech and language therapists provide evidence-based treatment to help address these difficulties. However, it is very easy to assume the speech and language therapy will “fix” these issues. That is just not the case. Most likely, your child will only see their therapist an hour or two a week at most. As mentioned, the clinical recommendations speech therapists provide must be practiced during everyday activities at home. It is up to you to find a collaborative speech therapist that will take the time to closely partner with you and your child. They should take on the role of mentor or coach to help you stay actively involved.
Avoid Certain Situations
Stay aware of the events or situations that can trigger a problematic emotional response. What makes your child upset, sad, stressed, frustrated, or annoyed? Avoiding or limiting these situations can create a nurturing home environment for both parent and child. For example, if transitioning off tablet-time consistently triggers meltdowns, it would be valuable to fade out that activity slowly.
Label Their Feelings
When children are mindful of their emotions, they can better manage their behavior and express their emotional state. One way to do this is to create a fun card game. Draw or print index cards that contain a variety of facial expressions (sad, happy, angry, scared, upset, surprised, etc). Explain and mimic these distinct feelings with your child in front of a mirror. Then, you can scatter them on a table and see if your child can match the correct expression to the right feeling. Make sure to reward your child when they answer correctly with a fun prize or treat.
Reading routinely to your child is not only a way to inspire their imagination, expand their literacy and vocabulary, and improve language comprehension, but it also presents a unique opportunity to discuss and describe the emotions of characters. Ask your child questions like, “How does the character feel right now?” “Why are they feeling that way?” “Does this make you happy or sad?” If your child happens to be obsessed with a certain book at this moment, it is totally okay to reread as many times as they would like. Try to find new and engaging questions each time.
How do you help your children communicate their emotions?