Young children deal with many of the same emotions adults do. Children get angry, sad, frustrated, nervous, happy, or embarrassed, but they often do not have the words to talk about 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 these 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, especially when they cannot properly communicate. The first step is to help your child identify their own emotions and why they are feeling that way.
For very young children who haven’t developed their verbal skills yet, families can introduce American Sign Language to them. Infants who learn sign language also are thought to gain psychological benefits, such as improved confidence and self-esteem. Feelings of anger due to an inability to communicate may not occur as often. Having the ability to sign could be a lifesaver when a child is too flustered to speak clearly. Early exposure to signing helps infants to develop their language and reasoning skills. While others are still crying to get what they want, signing babies are learning how to communicate with words and simple phrases.
For older children, starting at only 18 months, you can teach your child to verbalize his or her feelings and you can use the following strategies to help your child identify and express their feelings:
- 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 feelings they have and those that you see in others. Describe emotions they see around them with words, so they are able to identify them as well when experience them.
- Talk About How Feelings Can Be Expressed – Lead by example and show your child how to express their feelings. What do you do when you get mad? How do people know you are happy? Talk about ways that your child can express their emotions.
- Using 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 the feeling. 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.
- 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 reasonable or not.
- Encourage with Praise – When you catch your child expressing themselves in an appropriate manner, 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 feelings.
- Keep a Balance – Encourage children to not only express their own feelings but to also regard the feelings and needs of others. Try to address their issues constructively and give them time to explain their point of view and then close the subject. This will stop the situation from escalating.
Remember that it takes practice. Talk about feelings while playing games, eating dinner or even just riding in the car. Encourage it by being a positive role model and remember to stay calm and positive through this process.