Children experience complex feelings the same way adults do – but they lack the vocabulary and the capacity to handle them. If you have ever watched your child go from zero to a hundred in a matter of seconds, you will understand how they need help to manage their emotional health.
How can we teach our children about feelings?
Equip toddlers and preschoolers with the correct vocabulary
You might be surprised to learn that emotion words can be very difficult for children to grasp. To adults, the concept of happy, sad, angry etc are very basic ones, but toddlers and preschoolers do not necessarily understand what they really mean – or are able to label their feelings accordingly.
The first step is to help your children figure out what they are feeling and equipping them with the correct words to match these feelings. For example, if they are crying because they are not allowed to have another snack before bedtime, you can try a technique called sportscasting.
This means that you narrate your children’s actions and feelings back to them. Tell them: “I know you’re sad. You’re feeling sad because you really wanted another snack after preschool, but it’s too close to bedtime. If you have a snack, your tummy might hurt in the night. It’s okay to be sad, but we can’t give you any more food.”
This way, your children will understand that this emotion they are feeling is called sadness. Give them lots of opportunities to identify the feelings in themselves and in others. This works best at times when your children are calm and happy. Build up the vocabulary bank for the times when the children really need it!
Labelling your children’s feelings at that very moment is crucial to help them build their emotion vocabulary. This can even work when you sportscast during a television show that you are watching together with your children (Yes, Marshall is feeling embarrassed because he fell down and he doesn’t like it when everyone is looking at him).
Be a role model when you express your feelings
Children are like sponges. They learn by absorbing what they see and hear around them, as you would have noticed when you see your children copying your actions in adorable, exaggerated ways.
However, this also means that they very quickly pick up the ways we act out our feelings. If we yell and slam doors when we are angry, or if we express our feelings in positive, healthy ways, do not be surprised if your child reacts the same way.
It also helps to explain what you are doing and how you feel by naming your feelings to your children. For example, you can tell them how happy or how proud you are that they are sharing their toys with their siblings, or you could say that you are feeling sad that your favourite cupcake is not available.
By modelling appropriate behaviour and showing them the best ways to handle their emotions, your children will learn how to express their feelings in appropriate ways as well.
Strategies such as Speech and Drama classes can help children to manage their emotions
Naming their feelings is just the first step. Next, they will need to learn strategies that they can take to deal with their feelings. It is important for children that you keep things simple. Some parents make use of props like stress balls and glitter bottles to give children a physical outlet for their negative feelings. Others may rely on breathing techniques and mantras.
Speech and drama classes are actually very helpful for children to regulate their feelings. While pretending to be another character, children put themselves in others’ shoes and learn empathy. This promotes compassion and tolerance, making them more likely to understand how another person feels about their actions.
Speech and drama classes are also very effective in equipping children with verbal and non-verbal expression of ideas, which are vital for them to be able to express their feelings and explain their emotions to others. For example, Actors Centre Kids, a kids’ theatre programme powered by MindChamps, develops children beyond a typical speech and drama class by focusing on areas such as their social skills, emotional understanding, and empathy through an active learning process.
It is crucial that we empower our children with the tools to fully embrace and handle their emotions. Small children have big feelings – and they need our help to figure out what to do with them.
Written by JoBeth Williams