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  • Writer's pictureLaura

Teaching your kids about feelings

As children mature, they'll experience all kinds of emotions and like all humans, they'll also have reactions to those feelings.

Because of their natural responses, they'll find it helpful to learn to manage their emotions as early in life as possible. You can do a lot to help them with this.

1. Be open and honest about your feelings in your kids' presence

It's important for your children to see you as a healthy, active adult who appropriately expresses their feelings.

  • How you manage your own feelings provides your young child's first lesson in how to express their feelings.

  • Modelling is one of the most powerful forms of teaching behaviours to children.

2. Show respect

Verbally express your feelings in ways that are helpful and that show respect for others. When you or any other adults, appropriately talk about your emotions and share them with each other, kids learn how to do it just by observing.

  • Use "I" statements followed by "feeling" words when you share your emotions in front of your children.

  • For example, "I feel really annoyed / worried when you play with your friends on the way home from school and arrive 30 minutes late."

3. Be mindful of your tone of voice

If you use appropriate tones of voice when expressing feelings, your kids will learn to use them as well. For example, instead of raising your voice when you're upset, make an effort to keep your voice calm.

4. Identify your young children's emotions with them

For very young children, two or three years old, it's beneficial to label and clarify the children's feelings in their presence. Especially at six years and under, children usually have little understanding of how their emotions function.

  • For example, if a three-year-old gets angry and stamps his feet because he wants chocolate, get down to his eye level and say something like, "You're angry at mummy/daddy right now because you can't have chocolate."

  • Use names of feelings, like angry, mad, sad, happy, pleased, frustrated, and others. You convey a great deal of emotional learning when you teach a child about feelings by using the names of emotions.

  • Sometimes, you may find it helpful to tell a youngster, "It's okay if you're angry." Giving the child permission to feel and express his feelings can be very validating for them, even if they don't respond that way at the time.

  • On the other hand, if a young child gets frustrated or angry and throws a toy that could hurt someone, it's advisable to state, "No, don't throw your toys. It's not okay to throw your toys." Separate the actions from their emotions and from them as people.

  • Remember, it's futile for adults to get frustrated or angry with young children who have a lot to learn about their emotions. Your patience will show them, by modelling, how to keep their cool, even in a frustrating situation.

5. Reward them

When your child manages their feelings appropriately, providing immediate positive reinforcement makes a big difference in how a child learns to express emotions. Emotional management will often manifest in appropriate behaviour.

  • Smile and say something like, "Bella, I like the way you sat so still in the trolley at the supermarket. You did a great job!"

  • When offering positive comments, state your child's name and obtain eye contact with them, as this will help reinforce the positive behaviour.

As a parent, one of the most important lessons you'll ever teach your children is how to identify and appropriately express their feelings. Apply the tips above to help ensure that your children grow into resilient, healthy adults.

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