Children can have the same spectrum of emotions and feelings that adults have. Not everyone expresses their feelings in the same way. Just as some adults are private and introspective, some children are not verbal about their feelings and express themselves via behavior and play. Teaching your child to identify and express their emotions is important for their social and emotional development and growth. Consider these ideas for helping children express their feelings in all kinds of situations.
First, help teach your child identify their emotions.
Give those feelings a name or a label.
“You look happy after you took the puppy for a walk.”
“You are sad that we moved to a new house and you miss your old room.”
“The lightning and thunder made you feel frightened.”
After teaching your child to identify and express emotions, one can talk about positive ways to cope in various situations. When I wrote Someday When I am Bigger, a children’s book about emotions when living with chronic endocrine growth issues–one purpose was to help children identify the events and emotions surrounding their experience. By showing them a character with similar challenges, they can relate in ways they may otherwise be unable to express.
You can talk with your child about how it is fun to play with a puppy.
New rooms can be an opportunity to change decorations.
Understanding lightning can take the mystery out of storms. Lightning over the water at the beach can be very beautiful.
2. Talk about your own feelings.
It is understandable that adults often have trouble identifying emotions. Still, modeling positive coping skills can be very powerful for being a good role model for children as children learn by example.
Things to say:
“I was worried when your sister was late coming home from school. I called her phone, and she told me that the bus had a flat tire.”
“I was so disappointed when the picnic was rained out. It was wonderful that we could move to the covered park shelter.”
You can describe an experience that made you feel good.
“I was so happy to see grandma and grandpa after they were away for so long. I miss them so much!” “Baking a pie for the family reunion helped me pass the time.”
3. Use other activities to help children express their feelings
such as drawing, writing, or cooking to relax in the moment, especially for children unable to express emotions verbally. Some ideas include: having a crafts/art box handy, asking your child to draw a picture of the family or their friends from school or, having them draw and color a special event they liked and ask them to explain their drawings. Crafts or cooking can allow time for open-ended conversation. Praise their efforts for describing their creations.
4. Use Imaginative Play
Engaging your child in imaginative play such as puppets or figurines, or stuffed animals is another way to teach your child to identify and express emotions. You can even make the puppets together, which is a wonderful way to teach toddlers and young children to identify emotions! Act out emotions with your child. You can use make-believe characters or characters from books or films that your child enjoys. Why is pretend play important? Because you can use it to ask your child how that character felt when they were lost or when the dog ran away or when they met their new brother or sister. Any opportunity to confront feelings will benefit from these activities.
5. Be a good listener.
Help your child describe their feelings. You can have your child rate their feelings. For example, “today was a bad day, it was a very bad day, it was the worst day ever! Together list ways to make a bad day even better. For example, let’s read a book together, play a game, arrange a play date, volunteer at an animal shelter, plan a family day.
Teaching your child to identify and express their emotions is an ongoing process that spans childhood. Raising resilient children is especially important now as so many new challenges and influences on children can confuse them during significant developmental times. These are made even more stressful for those with chronic conditions. As you integrate these proactive ways to help your child express emotions, you find tremendous rewards in seeing your child’s progress on the road to a happy and well-adjusted individual.