Young children deal with many of the same emotions that adults do. Children get angry, sad, frustrated, nervous, happy, or embarrassed, but they often do not have the words to properly express how they are feeling. Instead, they sometimes express these emotions with their actions, which may not always be appropriate.
Young children have a hard time identifying how they are feeling and how to appropriately express those feelings. Many times, young children will bite or hit out of frustration, or have a hard time calming down after they have had an exciting day. This can be very frustrating for parents and caregivers, but these situations are all a learning opportunity for young children in how to identify and express their emotions and improve their emotional development.
Children get more frustrated when they are unable to make you understand what they are feeling. The first step is to help your child identify their own emotions and why they are feeling that way. Starting as early as 18 months, families can teach their child to verbalize his or her feelings.
You can use the following strategies to help your child identify and express their feelings:
- Use Words or Illustrations – Explain the feeling to your child by using easy words they can understand. Using picture books is a great way to illustrate feelings. Illustrations help children learn how to recognize other people’s emotions and facial expressions, an important component to identifying emotions in others and in oneself.
- Teach Your Child Sign Language – At Educational Playcare, we introduce sign language in our infant programs. By teaching children core signs, such as “more”, “all done”, and “eat”, they are given tools to express their wants and needs when they can’t use words yet, which in turn helps reduce frustration levels.
- Help Them Find a Solution – Teach your child different ways to deal with feelings. Allow them to come up with solutions and explain to them if those solutions are unreasonable or unfeasible.
- Encourage with Praise – When you catch your child expressing themselves in an appropriate way, reinforce this with lots of praise. When your child is praised they are more likely to repeat that action. This will encourage them and show them that it is okay to talk about their feelings.
- Practice – Support your child by practicing strategies for expressing emotions. Talk about feelings when playing games, eating dinner, or riding in the car. The more children practice, the quicker they will learn.
- Name the Feeling – Help children name their feelings by giving them labels. By naming feelings, you allow young children to develop an emotional vocabulary so they can talk about their feelings.
- Identify Feelings in Themselves and Others – Talk about the feelings that you see in others. Describe emotions they see around them with words so they are able to identify them when they experience those feelings themselves.
- Accept Your Child’s Feelings – Emotions sometimes may be too overwhelming for your child, but when you accept your child’s feelings, they feel like you understand them. This will help them cooperate with you and make them feel better. Support and acceptance are necessary to encourage your child to express themselves in appropriate ways.
- Listen to Your Child’s Feelings – Empathic listening is all about helping someone to see that you understand them, and you have heard them. Breathe, stay present, and resist the urge to make your child’s troublesome feelings go away. Often, your child just needs a chance to be heard while they express their feelings. Once they feel like they’ve been heard and understood, they will let go and move on. In fact, you might be amazed at how affectionate and cooperative they will be once they have had a chance to show you how they feel.
- Talk About Other’s Feelings – At Educational Playcare, one of our Core Values is Community. We encourage our students to build friendships and bonds with each other, and an important way to establish those types of relationships are for children to not only understand their own feelings, but to also regard the feelings and needs of others. When your children are upset about something that involves another child, talk about your child’s feelings, but also discuss how the other child or children may have felt.
It takes practice and determination to help your child adopt the habit of expressing their feelings appropriately. Encourage it by being a positive role model and remember to stay calm and positive throughout the process.