How to Help a Child Express Feelings

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Raising a healthy, emotionally balanced child isn’t about shielding him from negative feelings and situations; it’s about showing him how to label, talk about and appropriately express, or deal with, a wide range of emotions when they arise. If you want to teach your child how to express his feelings, you can use daily life and some learning materials to help him develop these skills. Demonstrating trust, respect, effective communication and healthy coping skills will help your child build a strong emotional foundation.

Things You'll Need

  • Emotion chart
  • Paper
  • Crayons or pencil
  • Mirror
  • Be a good emotion role model. Make sure your body, facial expressions and words match up. You can show your child how to effectively communicate feelings without yelling or letting the situation escalate. Say phrases like “I’m sad when you throw your food on the floor” or “I’m happy when you pick up your toys without being told.”

  • Label your child’s feelings. For instance, when you see that he is frowning, you can respond with “I see that you’re sad. Do you want to talk about it?” or “You have a sad face. Do you want to tell me what happened?” Don’t forget to point out happy and excited faces, too.

  • Hang an emotion chart on your child’s wall. Ask him to point to the emotion that he is feeling. This may work for a younger child that hasn’t quite built up his feelings vocabulary yet. An older child who struggles with identifying feelings will also benefit, but to prevent embarrassment when his friends visit, don't hang the chart on the wall.

  • Point out nonverbal communication to your child. When you see a couple looking at each other and smiling, you can direct your child’s attention to this behavior and talk about how he thinks they are feeling. If your child approaches you with a grumpy face and arms crossed, you can say something along the lines of “Your body language is telling me that you’re upset. Can you also use your words to explain how you’re feeling?” Use simple wording, give little prompts and offer suggestions to help your child learn how to explain how he feels.

  • Walk your child through some healthy problem solving skills to deal with tough situations. Give scenarios for your child to discuss. If you’re reading him a book, point out how the character is feeling and ask how he thinks the character should do. This helps teach your kiddo to use words instead of fists to deal with issues.

  • Make this a game. Position you and your child in front of the mirror. Call out an emotion and make the faces and other body language in the mirror together. This can be fun and educational.

  • Use feeling words to build your child’s emotion vocabulary. Throw in words like brave, confused, jealous, frustrated, angry, satisfied, peaceful, proud, surprised, shy, bored, worried, overwhelmed and calm throughout the day.

  • Ask him to draw his feelings or use action figures to act out how he feels. This can be a good emotion outlet for younger kids. Older kids may also be interested in expressing their feelings through art such as drawing and painting, as well as writing poetry, playing music and engaging in role-play -- try to help your child find what works best for him. Art, whether literary, musical or visual, not only help kids identify feelings, it also helps as an emotional outlet.

Tips & Warnings

  • If your child is upset, wait until she has calmed down before you discuss the issue or try to make it into a learning lesson.

References

  • Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images
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