What parents generally refer to as misbehavior, acting out, and anger and aggressiveness can often be traced to a child’s difficulty to identify and express emotions.
Children’s inability to identify big emotions such as anxiety, frustration, and anger largely explains inappropriate behavior such as tantrums and aggressiveness. Unmanaged emotions in children can have far-reaching consequences.
Helping your child manage emotions is not about making those emotions go away. It is about showing her that everyone experiences different emotions and teaching her to handle those emotions in a socially acceptable manner.
When talking to your child about feelings, there are a few things to keep in mind:
1) Choose the right moment. Talking to your child about emotions when she’s in the midst of a meltdown is unlikely to be successful. Rather, talk about emotions when she’s calm and attentive.
2) Encourage him to express himself. It is important for children to be able to express their feelings “I feel…” and associate those feelings with specific situations but it’s not always easy for them. You can help them put those emotions into words by asking questions such as “are you feeling sad/tired/upset …” or by asking them how they think a friend would feel in similar circumstances.
3) Your child learns about managing emotions by watching how you manage your emotions. It is important to show him that having emotions is normal, but they can be expressed in appropriate ways.
4) Don’t rush it. Teaching children about emotions takes time and needs constant practice. Talk often but over short periods.
5) Focus on the triggers. Knowing what sparks strong emotions in your child can help you teach him to address those triggers before a meltdown occurs.
6) Not all strategies will work. There are many strategies to help your child learn about emotions. Choose what works best for you both.
The first step in talking to kids about emotions is teaching them to identify different emotions.
Here are 3 fun games you can try to help your child learn to identify different emotions
1)Play “Emotions Detective”
Observing people can be a fun way to teach your kids about different emotions and how these are expressed.
1) First, go through the different emotions with your child. You can make your own flashcards using pictures of your kids expressing different emotions, get images from the internet or use ready-made flashcards. Printable brightly colored cards with animals depicting different emotions are available here.
When talking about the emotions, ask your child how different emotions are expressed. How does he express them? How do his friends express them?
2) Once your child is aware of the different emotions, choose an area where she can observe people. The best spot is where there are neither too many nor too few people.
3) Give your child a detective emotions worksheet portraying different emotions and ask him to look for people expressing the emotions displayed. This post includes a printable emotions detective worksheet which you can download here.
5) Speak to your child about when he felt the same.
2) Play The Emotions Game
The Emotions Game is a practical game to help kids (from age 4) learn about emotions in a simple and fun way. It couples images with simple questions that help kids talk about their emotions.
3) Play “feelings photographer” for a day
1) If your child is old enough to handle a camera, taking pictures of people expressing different emotions can be a fun way to teach her about those emotions.
2) First, your child has to be aware of different emotions and how those emotions are expressed.
3) Once she is, you can ask her to take pictures of different family members expressing different emotions. You can also take advantage of a family get together to give her an opportunity to “capture” more emotions.
4) Talk about the different pictures with your child. How are the emotions expressed?
5) Has your child ever felt the same?
If you’re struggling with your child’s anger and anxiety, check out my Emotions Kit and get practical tools and resources to help.