Learning about emotions and how to express them is an important part of a child’s development.
We’ve all heard parents say “use your words” to their children to encourage them to verbalize their feelings. However, this is a skill that needs to be learned.
As a parent, your job is to help your child name the feelings they are experiencing and teach them the right way to express them.
By understanding the feelings that they’re having, they can then learn how to communicate them with words instead of through meltdowns and temper tantrums.
Take a look at these 15 tips to help you teach kids about emotions.
The Basics of Teaching Kids Emotions
- Start with the basic emotions – As early as age two, your child can understand basic emotions such as happy, mad, sad, and scared. Use pictures from a book or flashcards to help them associate a feeling with a facial expression. When a child is older, you can move on to broader emotions such as nervous, shy, or frustrated.
- Build vocabulary – Practice saying words like “happy” or “sad” over and over with your child throughout the day, adding a facial expression to go with it. Then encourage them to repeat after you. Repeating certain words or phrases can help them learn to say them on their own.
- Use a mirror – It’s easy for a child to see what your face looks like when you’re happy or angry. But what about theirs? A mirror can be a great tool. Have them look in a mirror as they practice their facial expressions and say the word that goes with it. This See My Feelings Mirror is a great option for younger kids.
Make It Fun
- Use books – There is an endless list of books that help children recognize and understand their emotions. Check out your local library or online bookstore to help you find books that help your child with emotions and behaviors. Take it one step further by talking with them about why the characters in the book are feeling a certain way. The Color Monster: A Story About Emotions is a great one to start with!
- Watch videos – We all know that kids love to watch videos. You can find free videos on YouTube that help your child learn all about feelings in a fun, engaging way, and the movie Inside Out is a great pick for your next family movie night!
- Sing a song – Find songs online, or make up your own, to teach your child about the feelings we have and what they’re called.
- Learn through play – Use toys your child already has to help them learn about their emotions. Using dolls, stuffed animals, or action figures, act out situations that focus on a specific emotion. Label that emotion, practice making the corresponding facial expressions, and talk about what their toy should do next.
- Make a face – Take turns with your child making facial expressions and having the other person guess what they’re feeling. Talk about why the other person might be feeling that way.
- Use your food – Use food to create different facial expressions. Simple snacks such as cheerios or raisins can be used to make a face. Once they’re done, they can eat their creation!
Make The Connection
- Label your feelings and theirs – Throughout your day, you can label the feelings that you and your child are experiencing in the moment. For example, you can say, “I am so happy that you’re home” or “You are feeling sad that we have to leave the park”. This will further help your child to build their feelings vocabulary.
- Model good behavior – Kids learn about emotions by watching what we do. By expressing our emotions in a positive way, we can help them do the same. Know that when we express our feelings in a negative way, such as yelling or throwing things, the result will likely be your child mimicking those behaviors.
- Help them understand others – Learning about emotions goes beyond what your child is feeling. It’s also about being able to understand the feelings of those around them. Helping them to recognize emotions in others and how their actions make others feel is important. Saying something like, “When you took away your sister’s toy it made her feel sad” will help your child be aware of their actions and how they affect the feelings of others. You can help your child learn empathy by asking them how they would feel if that happened to them.
- End your day with feelings – At the end of your day, encourage your child to share how they felt during the day and what situation made them feel that way. For example, “Today I felt happy when I was the first one to ride on the swings.”
Recognize Their Behavior
- Reward their good choices – When your child chooses to express their feelings with words, a reward can be an effective way to keep the positive behavior going. Toddlers and younger children love sticker charts. School-age children love something more tangible, so you can combine the sticker chart with a reward that they earn after accumulating a certain number of stickers.
- Praise and encourage your child – Even a small amount of praise goes a long way to encourage your child to express their emotions in a positive way. Learning self-control isn’t easy. Recognize when they tell you or someone else how they’re feeling. For example, “I heard that you told your brother that he made you feel angry when he took the toy away from you. It makes me so happy that you used your words.”
Taking the time to learn how to teach kids about emotions will help them not only gain emotional intelligence, but mental strength as well. Understanding emotions will benefit them from childhood, through their teenage years, and all the way into adulthood.
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