Young children deal with many of the same emotions adults do. Children get angry, sad, frustrated, nervous, happy, or embarrassed, but they often do not have the words to talk about how they are feeling. Instead, they sometimes act out these emotions in very physical and inappropriate ways. Sometimes children express their emotions in ways that are problematic. Your child might cry when frustrated or throw toys when angry. Here are a few ways you can help your child to understand and deal with different emotions:
- Help your children understand their emotions by first giving the feelings names. One named, encourage your child to talk about how they are feeling. For example, you might say to your child, “I collected your toy; you are sad. You said you want your toy back.” By giving your child a label for their emotions, you enable your child to develop a vocabulary for talking about feelings.
- Give children lots of opportunities to identify feelings in themselves and others. For example, you might say to your child, “Riding your bike is so much fun. I see you smiling. Are you happy?” Or you might point out a situation and ask your child to reflect on what someone else may be feeling: “John hit his head on the wall. How do you think John feels?”
- Teach your children the different ways they can respond to specific feelings, conflicts, or problems.
- Talk about your own feelings with your children. “Remember yesterday when the water in the bathtub would not go down the drain? Mommy got so mad and do you remember what my face looked like when I got mad? Can you make a mad face like Mommy’s?”
- Talk with your children about different ways you deal with specific feelings. “When I get mad I take a deep breath, count to three, and then try to think of the best way to deal with my problem.”
- Teach your child to identify and express their emotions in ways that your family and friends find acceptable. For example, you might tell your child “Sometimes your dad is angry when things don’t go well at work. What does he do? He sits on the porch until he figures out what he wants to say about it. You should sit and think when you get angry.”
Additional Tips on Teaching Children How to Deal With Their Emotions
– Explain the feeling by using words your child can easily understand. Try to use pictures, books, or videos to help get your point across.
– Teach your child the different ways we can deal with feelings and allow them to come up with ways they can deal with their feelings. Talk about positive and not so positive ways to express feelings. There are many strategies you can use to teach new ways to appropriately express feelings:
- Use real-life examples or teach in the moment. For example, “You are having a difficult time operating your new toy. You look frustrated. What can you do? I think you could ask for help or take a deep breath and try again. What do you want to do?”
- Teach your child new ways to respond to feelings by discussing common situations that your child might remember or that happen frequently. For example, “Yesterday, you were angry because John would not let you play with his bicycle. You were so mad that you hit him. When you felt angry that John wouldn’t let you ride is bicycle, what should you have done?”
- You can use children’s books to talk about feelings. For example, asks your child when reading a book, “What is the character in the book feeling right now? How do you know? Have you ever felt that way? What do you do when you feel that way?”
- Keep it simple, use visuals or pictures to help get your point across, and always try to relate your lesson back to something that happens in your child’s life.
- Teach your child new strategies to use when feeling emotions that may be expressed inappropriately (e.g., anger, frustration, sadness). Strategies to share with your child might include: taking a deep breath when frustrated or angry, getting an adult to help resolve a conflict, asking for a turn when others won’t share, asking for a hug when sad, and finding a quiet space to calm down when distressed.
– Praise your child the first time he tries to talk about his feelings instead of just reacting. It is very important to let your child know exactly what they did right and how proud you are of them for talking about their feelings. It should always be okay to say what we are feeling. It’s how we choose to show our feelings and respond to them that requires special effort.
– Support your child to talk about feelings and practice their new strategies for expressing emotions appropriately every chance you get. For example, you can talk about feelings when you are playing a game, when you are riding in the car, or when you are eating dinner.
There will be all kinds of things that happen every day that will be great opportunities for you to talk about feelings. The more often your child practices, the faster your child will learn.
Conclusion: Understanding emotions is a critical part of children’s overall development. It is up to the adults to teach their children to understand and deal with their emotions in appropriate ways. They are experiencing so many new and exciting things for the first time. It can be overwhelming! We need to be sure we always validate our children’s emotions and don’t punish them for expressing their feelings. You might want to remind your child that, “It is okay to tell me how you feel, but it’s not ok to hurt others or things when you feel sad or frustrated.” Teach them about their emotions, help them come up with new ways to deal with emotions, give them lots of time to practice their new strategies, and always remember to give lots of positive encouragement when they use the new strategy instead of reacting in the “old” way!