fit recently sat down with Michelle Heesch, Certified Child Life Specialist at Sanford Health’s Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, SD, to learn how caregivers can aid children in understanding and expressing their feelings and emotions.
At times, it can be challenging to express how we feel. How can parents/guardians aid children in identifying and labeling their feelings?
A lot of the time children do not have the words to accurately express how they feel. This can be because of a limited vocabulary or not understanding what they are feeling. Think of a toddler's vocabulary, when they only know a few words. It’s difficult to say "I'm really overwhelmed" so instead it comes out as a tantrum. It helps children when grownups give them the words for their feelings in the moment, and even better when adults can model that behavior and name their own feelings. It is very appropriate to tell your children what you are feeling and why.
• “I feel so happy when I can spend time with you. When I’m happy I feel like smiling.”
• “I'm frustrated my plans didn't work out. When I'm frustrated my tummy feels funny and I feel like giving up.”
• “I'm sad we can't go to the park right now. When I'm sad I sometimes feel like crying.”
Why is it important for kids today to understand their feelings and emotions?
When children do not understand their emotions or do not have the opportunity to express what they are feeling often times they grow up to be adults that do not know how to articulate what they are feeling. When children are given the words to express what is going on, it helps them self-regulate their emotions and identify coping strategies to help when they are feeling a certain way. As children become more familiar with the names of their emotions, they can verbalize how they are feeling which decreases tantrums, outbursts, and other negative behaviors.
What are some safe coping strategies or methods of expression for kids who are feeling mad, sad, or happy?
After naming their feelings, it is helpful to identify coping strategies for children to use, as needed. For example, “You sound frustrated that you can’t get your shoe on, if you ask a grownup they would be more than happy to help you.”
Some of my favorite safe coping strategies include physical activity, taking deep breaths, throwing cotton balls as hard as you can into a container, going out-side to yell, laughing and telling jokes, talking to a trusted grown up, dancing, drawing a picture of my feelings, anything that is safe and allows expression.
Social and emotional skills are crucial for kids to become successful both academically and socially. Looking for a kid-friendly resource your child can use to begin thinking through their feelings and emotions? Download our How I Feel printable and get started.
Also, check out our Get to Know Your Feelings video to help your little ones identify emotions.