How to help children understand and deal with their feelings?

There are moments when children get very emotional and it is hard to deal with such a bunch of emotions. They get stressed and parents too.

Sometimes they just do not know how to express themselves or they do not even know how to name what they are feeling. So, from an early age (around 2 years old) it is good to start talking about emotions with children, so they can start to understand them.

Ways to help your child understand what she is feeling

  • You can start to draw a happy face, sad face, angry face and talk with your children about those feelings (“Look, this boy is happy! He is smiling”; “This one looks so sad. He has some tears” and so on).
  • You can also cut out from a magazine or brochures faces of different people showing several emotions.
  • When they are older, around 3 years old, try to include more complex emotions in their vocabulary (fear, excitement, doubt, surprise, anxiety…).
  • Teach them how to draw a person, with a smile or sad face. It helps to express their feelings.
  • Even when they do not know how to draw and they feel angry, for example, you can canalize your child feelings into the paper and ask her to express what she is feeling using a pencil and a sheet.

What about older children?

In the book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and How To Listen So Kids Will Talk, from Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich, the authors suggest a four-step process when trying to help kids dealing with feelings:

  1. Listen with full attention – You should listen to what your child is telling you, look into her eyes, without any other distraction. Otherwise, she can feel you are not interested and give up talking, feeling frustrated or rejected. Sometimes a sympathetic silence is all a child needs.
  2. Acknowledge their feelings with a word – While listening to her, instead of giving advice or judging a situation, just break the silence of listening with words like “Oh”, “I see”, “Mmmm”,”Uhhh”. Words like these, mixed with a caring attitude and sincere listening help the child to explore their own thoughts and feelings and possibly find their own solution.
  3. Give their feelings a name – Instead of denying the felling (telling “do not worry with that”; “it was just …”; “do not cry because of that”), face it and give the feeling a name. Parents do not usually give this kind of response because they are afraid that it would make things worse. In fact, when you name a feeling and face it, the child gets usually calmer, because she hears the word for what she is experiencing and feels comforted because someone has acknowledged her inner experience (Example: “Oh, no, what a shock!”; “You two had a good time together”; “That sounds embarrassing”, “You really cared about it”; “You must feel sad about it”). From the four steps, this is probably the most challenging, once it is not always easy to identify a feeling.
  4. Give them their wishes in fantasy – When children want something they cannot have, adults usually respond with logical explanations of why they cannot have it. Often, the harder we explain, the harder they protest. If you show you understand without beginning a “battle”, this attitude can make wonders. Some days ago my son insisted he wanted a green toothbrush, but the one he had was not green, so we started a dialogue like this:

Son (almost crying) – I want to wash my teeth with a green toothbrush!

Me – I wish I had one for you.

Son – I want it, I want a green toothbrush now.

Me – Ok. Let’s find a green toothbrush with a dinosaur head. Or do you prefer one with a bear head full of hair?

Son (stop crying and with a small smile) – Oh, I want one with a crocodile.

So we started imagining how would be the one he wanted and somehow distracted him and it worked perfectly. In a minute he was laughing and forgot the initial statement.

We always must try to listen to children and speak to them with an attitude that shows we are interested, that has compassion.

It is when our words are infused with our real feelings of empathy that they speak directly to a child’s hearth.

Through dance or singing, children can also express feelings and feel better.

If you want to add more ideas about how to help children dealing with their feelings, please feel free to leave a comment. You are always welcome!

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