Teach Your Child to Identify and Deal With Feelings

Published in Pediatrics, For the Health of It Author: Catherine Palmer,PhD, LP

Even as an adult, recognizing and dealing with feelings in a healthy and positive way is challenging. So, next time your child has an emotional outburst or is struggling with sadness, anger or disappointment, remember they need an adult to help and teach them to identify the feeling and how to deal with it.

  • Allow your child to experience a range of emotions and give him/her permission to express them.
  • Trust your child’s emotions (sad, angry, timid, excited) rather than dismissing his/her feelings by saying things such as:
    • “Don’t cry, you are fine. It was just a toy, you can get another one.”
    • “There is no reason to be mad and acting like this. You shouldn’t be afraid, it is just thunder.”
  • Respond to your child’s feelings:
    • Stop what you are doing and give your child and the situation your full attention.
    • Move closer and provide a loving hug or hand on the shoulder if your child wants physical affection.
    • Listen and observe carefully and demonstrate that your child has your full attention.
    • Label the feeling you think your child may be experiencing.
      • “You seem overwhelmed.”
      • “I hear fear.”
      • “I can understand why you feel embarrassed.”
    • Acknowledging feelings is not the same as allowing inappropriate behavior.
      • “I know you feel angry with your sister for taking your toy, but you cannot hit your sister, even if you feel mad. Next time, ask her to give it back, and if that doesn’t work, ask Mom or Dad for help. If you feel angry and want to hit, you may need to take a deep breaths and count to five, or walk away to another room until you feel calm.”
    • Be a good role model for your child. Your child always is watching you so give them a good example. Describe out loud the feelings you experience in daily life and how you are dealing with them.
      • “Mom is feeling frustrated that the glass of milk spilled all over her freshly scrubbed floor, so I am taking deep breaths to let my anger cool down while I clean up the mess.”
      • “Dad feels sad and disappointed that Grandpa is very sick and not able to go hunting this year, so I am going to take the dog for a walk and get some fresh air. While I am walking, I can think of the fun memories of other years Grandpa and I went hunting together.”
    • Read stories that address and describe various emotions. Books are a great way to explore difficult feelings through the eyes of the characters. Discuss how the characters dealt with pain, overcame their fears or learned to be content. Pause at different points in the book and ask your child how the character is feeling and why he/she chose that emotion.
      • “How is she feeling?”
      • “Why does that make him happy?”
      • “What can he do when he feels sad?”