How to Teach Kids About Their Feelings

Tell kids to use their words instead of behaviors to show how they feel

Teach your child how to talk about her feelings.
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Feelings are complicated, especially for 4-year-olds who don't understand why you won't give them what they want or 7-year-olds who just had their feelings hurt. Teaching your child about emotions can be one of the best ways to prevent behavior problems, like temper tantrums, aggression, and defiance.

A child who can say, “I’m mad at you,” is less likely to hit you. And a child who can say, "That hurts my feelings," is better equipped to resolve conflict peacefully.

Understanding emotions is also key to helping your child become mentally strong, which is key to helping him become a responsible adult. Start teaching your child about feelings now and you'll prevent a lot of problems down the road.

Teach Your Child Simple Feeling Words

Preschoolers should be taught basic feeling words such as happy, mad, sad and scared. Older kids can benefit from learning more complex feeling words such as frustrated, disappointed, and nervous.

A great way to help kids learn about feelings is to discuss how various characters in books or TV shows may feel. Pause to ask, “How do you think he feels right now?” Then discuss the various feelings the character may be experiencing and the reasons why.

This also teaches kids empathy. Young children think the world revolves around them so it can be an eye opening experience for them to learn that other people have feelings too. If your child knows that pushing his friend to the ground may make his friend mad and sad, he is less likely to do it.

Create Opportunities to Talk About Feelings

Show kids how to use feeling words in their daily vocabulary. Model how to express feelings by taking opportunities to share your feelings to your child. For example, say, “I’m sad that you don’t want to share your toys with your sister.”

Each day, ask your child, “How are you feeling today?” With young children, use a simple chart with smiley faces if that helps them to pick a feeling and then discuss that feeling together.

Talk about what sorts of things influence your child’s feelings.

Point out when you notice your child is likely feeling a particular feeling. For example, say, “You look really happy that we are going to be eating ice cream,” or “It looks like you are getting frustrated playing with those blocks.”

Teach Your Child How to Deal with Feelings

Teach kids appropriate ways to deal with uncomfortable emotions. Kids need to learn that just because they feel angry doesn’t mean they can hit someone. Instead, they need to learn anger management skills so they can resolve conflict peacefully.

Teach your child to take a self-time out. Encourage him to go to his room or another quiet place when he gets upset. This can help him calm down before he breaks a rule and gets sent to time-out.

Teach your child healthy ways to deal with sad feelings as well. If your child feels sad that his friend won’t play with him, talk about ways he can deal with his sad feelings. Often, kids don’t know what to do when they feel sad so they become aggressive or exhibit attention-seeking behaviors.

Reinforce Positive Ways to Express Feelings

It’s important to reinforce a child’s positive behaviors with a positive consequence when you catch him verbalizing his feelings. Praise efforts by saying something such as, “I really like the way you used your words when you told your sister you were mad at her.”

Another great way to reinforce healthy habits is to use a reward system. For example, a token economy system could help a child practice using his healthy coping strategies when he feels angry instead of becoming aggressive.

Model Healthy Choices

Just like with any behaviors you are trying to teach kids, it is important to model healthy ways to deal with feelings. If you tell your child to use his words when he’s angry but he witnesses you throw your phone after a dropped call, your words are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Point out times when you feel angry or frustrated and say it out loud. For example, “Wow, I’m angry that car just pulled in front of me.” Then take some deep breaths or model another healthy coping skill so your child can learn to recognize skills you use when you feel angry.

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