What parents generally refer to as misbehaviour, 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 behaviour 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
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 coloured 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 that you can download here.
5) Speak to your child about when he felt the same.
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?
Use old magazines
Take advantage of the many emotions portrayed in magazines to teach your child about emotions.
1) When your child is aware of different emotions and how these are expressed, give him a couple of old magazines.
2) Ask your child to cut out the pictures of people expressing different emotions.
3) Once she has the pictures, ask her to group similar emotions together.
4) When the different emotions have been grouped together, ask your child to identify how different emotions are expressed.
5) Ask your child to make up a story about some of the pictures. Why do they feel that way? Role playing can be a powerful tool when teaching your child about emotions.
If you’re struggling with your child’s anger and anxiety, join my free 4-week e-mail course and get tools and resources to help.