Recognizing the Limitations of A Child's Ability To Express Themselves
Parents commonly overestimate a child's language skills and ability to express themselves when it comes to emotional situations. You should remember that just because a school-age child can speak clearly and concisely in everyday life doesn't mean those language skills which allow them to be articulate in ordinary conversation carry over to effectively expressing emotions in difficult situations.
The Difference between a good vocabulary and the ability to express complex emotions
Being able to speak and having the necessary vocabulary is something very different from being able to take an abstract concept, such as emotional states or complex feelings, and then effectively communicate these inner states of mind, especially during difficult times. If you sit back and recall all the times that AS AN ADULT you've had difficulty expressing yourself in the manner you've desired, you should begin to understand how difficult this task can be for children. By age three-and-a-half or four most children have developed a large enough vocabulary that it allows them to describe just about anything in the world. But having a large repertoire of words is not the same thing as skillfully stringing them together in order to express complex emotional states or troubling theories of mind.
This is a common trap adults fall into. A 6-year-old child can sound as articulate as an adult at times. Lord knows many have no shortage of words, and will eagerly talk your head off if you let them. Because of this, caretakers can be lulled into thinking that a child would have little trouble expressing themselves or disclosing their inner struggles. This is not the case.
A) There are two dangerous extremes parents can take. The first is to assume that their child is devastated even though they appear fine on the outside. This attitude runs the serious risk of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The child may indeed be fine, but parents end up creating a disturbance simply by modeling such a response. On the other hand, you shouldn't assume that just because your child doesn't articulate their struggles that all is well. DON'T ASSUME ANYTHING. Do your best to offer opportunities for emotional expression without behaving in a way that suggests a child should be bothered.
B) Since children may have a hard time expressing their emotions adequately, it helps to vocalize what you think he or she might be feeling: