We try to teach children at a very young age that it’s okay to have all kinds of feelings. We try to help them identify what those feelings are and what they represent. As infants and toddlers, they often act out their feelings physically because their language is not developed enough to verbalize those same feelings; they do not even know the names of most emotions (frustrated, annoyed etc.). If your child starts banging the wall because he/she broke a toy, it is important for you, as an adult, to identify for your child, that they appear to be feeling angry and/or frustrated. By identifying and verbalizing the feeling for your child at a young age, you are teaching them the names of emotions and labeling them as reactions to something specific that can be expressed in different ways. You can tell your child “it’s okay to have feelings! Everyone has them. It is what you do with those feelings that’s important.” Below you will find some ways to teach children about feelings:
- Teach your child simple feeling words: For younger children, start with feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, and fear. May be even use pictures of faces to help them understand. Older children may be able to understand feelings such as frustration, disappointment, nervousness (or anxiety), and guilt. Talk about other people’s feelings as well so your child can develop a sense of empathy. You can use real situations or books to help children identify feelings. Sometimes it is easier to practice this with books, tv shows (for older kids) or discussions so they can identify feelings they are having or other people have. In the middle of a meltdown is a difficult time to learn, so it helps to practice when they are calm. The goal is for them to then be able to verbalize when they are feeling something, once you have practiced understanding what the feeling is. You can also download a simple feelings chart from pinterest to help with this process.
- Create opportunities for your child to talk about feelings: When you are asking your child how their day was and they tell you it was fine or they describe what they did, inquire further. If they seemed to really like a particular activity that day, you can follow that up with a comment such as “I bet that made you happy!” This will open up the window for them to be able to talk to you about how they are feeling and gives you the opportunity to validate their feelings.
- Positively reinforce your child’s ability to express his/her feelings: When your child has verbalized his/her feelings instead of acting out in a negative way, let him/her know how proud you are! (And how proud they can be of themselves – identifying yet another feeling!) You want this behavior to continue so reward it.
- Model healthy ways of expressing feelings: Practice what you preach! If you are angry about something, say so! Don’t start ripping up paper or banging the desk. Take a few deep breaths and say “I am really angry that you wrote all over my pad of paper.”
If you would like to discuss this further to see if a professional therapist could be helpful, contact us at Gaithersburg Counseling Center, at 240-274-5680 or Admin@HealingLLC.com. Or you can visit our website for more information at www.HealingLLC.com.
By Sara Rothleder, Director of Operations, Gaithersburg Counseling Center & Amy Hooper, Owner, Gaithersburg Counseling Center