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Helping Kids Recognize, Manage and Express Their Feelings

Adults play a major role in children’s ability to identify, understand and express their feelings.  When spending time with kids, think about the ways you can model and teach them to recognize, name, and express their feelings in healthy ways. 

Ask children how they feel. When you ask, you send the message that feelings are important and that you care. 

  • Talk about your own feelings.  Model healthy emotional expression.  Talk out loud about your feelings as you experience them.  “I feel frustrated and upset when the traffic makes my trip longer than I’d planned.”  “I just learned that the article I wrote will be included in the newsletter.  I worked hard on that and I’m proud that it was selected.”  “I’m angry now so I’m going to go to my room to calm down for a few minutes so I don’t say something I’m going to regret.”
  • Help children label their feelings.  Pay attention and label feelings for children.  “Sounds like you’re sad that your friend didn’t include you.”  “Sometimes we can feel jealous when someone else is picked first.”  “You look pretty excited about the birthday party invitation.”
  • Don’t scold children for their feelings.  Teach them appropriate ways to express them.  When we say things like “You’re not mad” or “What are you crying for?” we send the message that feelings are bad or should be hidden.  Teach children how to express their feelings.  “I can see you’re mad but you need to pick up your toys now.”  “I can see you’re sad.” 
  • Reinforce children when they handle their feelings constructively.  “I was proud when you told Janie she hurt your feelings.”  “I like when you take a deep breath and think before responding.” 
  • When you regulate your own responses to situations, you model feelings management.  Instead of yelling, try to calm down before reacting to a situation.  Explain that sometimes you need a time out or a quick break before responding in a way you might later regret.  Help children find things they can do to relax and calm down: read a book, take a walk outside, run up and down the stairs, or take a bath.  Point out how pleased you are when they make a healthier choice.
  • Show how to set things right when you do react instead of respond.  Apologize.  Discuss how you wished you’d handled things differently.  “I’m sorry I yelled at you when you missed the bus.  I was frustrated, but yelling doesn’t solve anything.  Tomorrow you need to set the alarm earlier so you get out the door on time.” 

As you encourage children to talk about their feelings and the feelings of others, their ability to identify, understand, and manage their feelings will increase.