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I often tell my children to use their words when they are upset. I assume they know what they are feeling and can verbalize it to me. Wrong! It’s difficult for children to say what they are feeling because many times they don’t know what to name the feeling they are experiencing. Instead, they show us how they are feeling by throwing temper tantrums and having meltdowns. We first need to teach children the words to express their feelings before we require them to “use their words.”
Young children can be taught basic emotions such as happy, mad, sad, and scared as early as two years old. As they get older, you can explain emotions such as feeling frustrated, nervous, shy, etc. to them.
Here are some ways you can help your child learn the language they need to express their feelings:
1. Sing songs to help young children learn how to express their feelings. I came across this version of a preschool classic, If you are happy and you know it at Sunflowersstorytime.com. It goes:
If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.
If you’re surprised and you know it say “Oh my!”
If you’re sad and you know it rub your eyes “Boo hoo”
If you’re scared and you know it shiver and shake.
If you’re sleepy and you know it close your eyes.
If you’re angry and you know it stomp your feet.
And always make sure end up with “happy” again.
They suggest having pictures of each emotion to show the kids as they sing the song.
Children like learning through playing and having fun. A fun game to help kids learn about feelings is Feelings Charades.
For this game you will need to make a feelings cube. Paste pictures of feeling faces on a tissue box. Have kids roll the box and whatever feeling face it lands on they have to act out.
You can find free feeling picture cards here.
You can also use the cards to play Memory. Simply print out two sets of Feeling Cards, shuffle them and then have your child find the matching Feelings Card.
3. Watch kid-friendly videos about feelings. Kids respond well to visual stimulation. Here are two videos I like to show kids to help them learn about feelings:
4. Get into the habit of labeling the feelings you believe your child is experiencing. For example, if your child runs up to you and hugs you as you walk through the door, you can say something like “someone is excited to see me” or “someone is happy I’m home.” Labeling your child’s feelings as they happen helps them to build their feelings vocabulary.
5. When you read to your child, discuss how the characters in the story are feeling.
Point out any clues that lets you know what they are feeling such as facial expressions or behaviors. Then explain to your child why the characters feel the way they do. If your child is able to, let them take a turn identifying how the characters are feeling and why.
I like to read The Way I Feelto young children because it uses beautiful images to describe a range of feelings.
6. When your child does something that upsets someone else, let them know how their behavior might make others feel. For example, “When you called your sister names, she felt sad and her feelings were hurt. “ This will help your child be mindful of what they say and do to others. You can follow up by asking how they would feel if someone did the same thing to them. Encouraging your child to put themselves in someone else’s shoe teaches them how to be empathetic. Empathy is an important life skill that will allow your child to maintain positive relationships with other people.
7. Model appropriate ways to express feelings to your child. Children are always watching us and like sponges they soak everything up. Good and bad. If your child sees you expressing your feelings in a positive way, over time they learn to do the same. However, if they see you yelling and throwing things when you get upset, they are more likely to mimic this behavior.
8. Teach your child appropriate ways to express their emotions.