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. The first step is to help your child identify their own emotions and why they are feeling that way. Starting at only 18 months, you can teach your child to verbalize his or her feelings.
You can use the following strategies to help your child identify and express their feelings:
- 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.
- Practice – Support your child when they talk and practice 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 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.
- 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 and 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 he expresses his feelings. Once he feels and expresses them, he will let them go and move on. In fact, you might be amazed at how affectionate and cooperative he will be once he has a chance to show you how he feels.
- Accept Your Child’s Feelings – Emotions sometimes may be too overwhelming for your child but they need to be accepted by parents so the child feels you understand them. This will help them cooperate with the parents and make them feel better. Support and acceptance is necessary to encourage your child to express themselves in appropriate ways.
- Help Your Child Feel Secure when they are Expressing their Emotions – Your angry child is a confused and hurting young human. When children are not controlling their emotions, it is because they can’t, at that moment. If you stay compassionate, your child will feel safe enough to surface, feel and express the tears and fears that are driving his emotions and the actions that follow. If you can help your child cry, those feelings will evaporate, and the anger and behavior associated with it, will vanish as well.
- 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.
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 through this process.