Language is an important part of communicating, but words have limitations. Words seldom tell the whole story in an emotional situation. Nuances are inherent in subjective experiences. Because of the limitations of language, using only words can cut off important, intense emotional aspects of your child’s experiences in life.

A child, for example, can feel inconsolable sorrow and loss when a special toy is broken or while saying good-bye to a person or pet who is loved. These situations, for a child, trigger strong emotions that can seem nearly impossible to endure. In these instances, words alone—like “sad” or “disappointed”—cannot accurately capture the enormous feelings of loss. At these times, your child needs a loving adult’s physical presence for support. Your child wants your understanding and your calm, protective body and mind rather than simply being talked out of his or her intense feelings. Staying near your child physically at times like these honors your child’s experience. Hugging and holding convey your understanding more than words can.

For children to have words for their feelings is important, but there will be time to use words later, after the intense emotions are met with your very being. You will have time to tie their feelings to words after they have found a calmer place. Trying to get children to tie their feelings to words before they are ready removes access to the complete emotional experience. Talking is not the same as feeling, which is something we want our children to understand.

More to consider: Hurting inside . . .

Connecting with your child when he or she is struggling with a painful emotion is a key part of loving well. Taking the time to try to understand, hug, and hold, and then find the right words for the pain creates a deep connection. Feeling alone in pain actually activates pain centers in the brain.