6 Steps to Teaching Feelings & How to Help Kids Express Their Emotions
1. Talk About Your Own Feelings
Have you ever heard the expression, “you have to walk the walk to talk the talk.”
In other words, the best way to teach your children to express their feelings is to set a good example yourself. Start by talking about your own feelings.
Modeling healthy emotional expression means you verbally talk out loud about your own feelings and behavior as you experience them.
- “I feel frustrated when we’re running late.”
- “I feel sad when you tell me mean things.”
- “I feel proud that the article I wrote was published in a magazine.”
- “I’m feeling really angry right now, so I’m going to go outside for a few minutes. I don’t want to say something I don’t mean, or that could be hurtful.”
- “I feel excited about my 5K time because my hard work paid off!”
Using I feel statements helps your child see your behavior, notice your expression, and register the feeling that connected them together. This is the start to building emotional intelligence.
When your child sees you being open about your feelings, it encourages them to express themselves too.
You can try these Emotion Picture Cards to help teach feelings too. Your children can use them to show you how they feel if they do not want to share them verbally yet. It can be a beneficial communication tool.
2. Help Them Untangle & Label Their Emotions
Emotions are like a foreign language to a child, but the more you go through your daily life helping to label your child’s feelings, the more they will be able to untangle their emotions and name them on their own.
- “It looks like you’re feeling sad your friend didn’t want to play.”
- “It sounds like you’re upset we have to leave the park to go home for dinner.”
- “I think what you’re feeling could be jealousy because your brother wants to play with the neighbor and not you. Is that right?”
- “You look pretty excited you aced your spelling test.”
- “You’re so proud you caught the baseball!”
3. Talk & Game Plan About Healthy Ways to Express Emotions
It’s also important to create opportunities for you and your child to come up with alternative solutions to expressing emotions instead of throwing things, hitting, having a tantrum, etc.
You can start the conversation by using your own behavior as an example, so they understand how to find healthy ways to express their emotions.
- “Remember when I was really stressed out yesterday because we were running late for the doctor’s appointment. When I get stressed out, I like to take deep breaths and close my eyes for a few seconds. This helps me to calm down.”
- “Remember when I yelled yesterday because I was on the phone and it was really loud in the house?” I should have taken a deep breath, asked you to go outside to play, or stepped outside myself instead of yelling. That wasn’t the right way to handle the situation.”
Now it’s time to turn it back on your child. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- “I know you’re frustrated because you want to go outside and play, but first, we need to clean up our mess in the house. What can we do to speed things up? Do you think you can ask for help or ask to turn on a song so you can clean up to music?”
- “You are jealous because your sister went to play with a friend and you feel left out. Instead of getting upset, is there anyone you want to play with, or do you want to ask your Dad or me to do something with you?”
- “Your sister is upset because she bumped her head. How do you think she feels? Do you know any way to help her feel better?
- “I’m sorry I yelled at you when you didn’t clean up your room. I was frustrated because we had guests coming over for dinner, but yelling doesn’t solve anything. Next time, we’ll set aside an extra 10 minutes to make sure our rooms are cleaned up on time.”
4. Praise When Your Children Handle Their Feelings in a Healthy Way
Teaching emotions, especially to toddlers, can be a challenge. The one thing you want to avoid is discipline methods or shaming to correct your child’s misbehavior, as this does nothing to help them deal with their emotions.
When you resort to these methods – time-outs, consequences, and shaming – it only teaches a child to bottle up their emotions until they get to the point of exploding through a meltdown, tantrums, or outbursts at home, in public, or at school.
Instead, teach them appropriate ways to express themselves.
Using shaming phrases sends the message that feelings are bad and should be hidden.
Avoid Phrases such as:
- Don’t cry
- Why are you crying
- What are you crying for
- Stop doing that
- Don’t be a baby
- Don’t act like a baby
Praise your child when they handle their feelings constructively.
- “I noticed how you walked away from the table when Cooper said something that made you mad. Instead of reacting, you made a really good choice to walk away.”
- “I’m really proud of the way you talked about your feelings when Juliette said something mean at dinner. You did the right thing.”
Pay attention and point out how proud you are when your child choses a healthy way to express themselves.
Instead of using punishment or shaming language, you can help your child process and manage their emotions in positive ways until they can do it on their own.
Calm down picture cards gives children the choice about how they want to calm down. There are 30 gentle and healthy ways to calm down for kids to choose from depending on what they want and feel they need at the time.
5. Regulate Your Response to Situations
You can show how to set things right when you do react instead of respond.
When you, as the adult, can regulate your own response to situations, you model feelings management for your children.
Think of what happens when you raise your voice and yell. Does it make the situation around you escalate? Does your child yell back or burst into tears?
Using big emotions to combat big emotions only makes for an explosion.
Before you react to a situation or emotions, make sure you have control of your own emotions before you react. It’s OK to explain that sometimes you need a quick break before responding, so you don’t say or do something you’ll later regret.
6. Connect With Your Children
Studies have proven that the more children feel connected to their parents, the more they are able to regulate and deal with their emotions in healthy ways.
When you notice your child getting upset, the best thing you can do for them is to practice empathetic listening, use nonjudgmental communication and make them feel comfortable expressing their emotions.
Try putting yourself in your child’s shoes and seeing the world from their perspective. This will help you understand the reason behind the meltdown and to respond empathetically.
In fact, experts recommend that we hug our children during these tough times because of the benefits it provides in regulating their emotions.