Young children have feelings just like adults. Children often have a hard time expressing their feelings with words. Children’s emotions are very visceral, especially between the ages of 2 and 7. They sense something in their bodies that tells them they are joyful, angry, scared, or hurt. Here are 6 Ways to Help Young Children Understand and Express their Feelings Appropriately
Ways to Help Young Children Understand
A happy child will express joy with laughter. An angry child might be inclined to become physically aggressive or have a temper tantrum. Helping your children understand what they are feeling, and teaching them to express those feelings with the right words, will make them better equipped to maturely resolve conflict or express love as they grow up.
Give Your Child Word Skills
Very young children don’t possess the vocabulary necessary to express emotions with words. By teaching them the appropriate words associated with feelings, they will learn that using words may have a better outcome for them.
Let’s say you put blue socks on your 3 year old and he wants to wear orange socks. His first inclination might be to kick his feet and cry. Unfortunately, this could result in you getting a smart knock to the head. Take a breath. Ask your child what is wrong. Teach him to tell you what he dislikes with words and to ask for your help or permission to remedy the situation.
Use Objects and Pictures
Children are incredibly visual. They have images in their heads before they have the words for those images. Say your little on is screeching and pointing at the refrigerator door. Open the door and ask her to point out what she wants. Oh no, she only sees the purple juice box, not the one with the apple on it. Before the tantrum starts, ask her to draw a picture of what she wants. You will likely have to help her with this.
Once you have both figured out that she wants apple juice, let her know that you will make sure you get some the next time you are at the store and show her that you have added a picture of an apple to your shopping list. She still might be mad, but at least she knows you have understood her.
“You is kind You is smart You is important.” ― Kathryn Stockett, The Help
Give your Child a Time Out
When your 6 year old is upset because his younger sibling is playing with his Legos, and he is about to clobber her, remove him from the area and tell him he needs to take a minute to calm down. Explain that his sister is too little to understand and he is old enough to use his big boy words to tell you that he doesn’t want her to play with his toys. Let him sit this one out quietly for a few minutes until he can ask you for help and promises not to hit his sister.
Understand and Express their Feelings Appropriately
Listen to Your Child
You may be making 99% of the decisions for your child, but he needs to think he is making some of them. Assume you have a play date scheduled and your son is stressing before it even happens. Ask him to explain why he is feeling anxious. He may tell you that he doesn’t want to share one of his toys. Acknowledge that you heard this and ask him if he would like to put that particular toy away just for the day. Encourage him to pick out a toy he is ok with sharing. Knowing that he was heard and was able to make a decision is very empowering for a child.
Reward Positive Expressions of Feelings
It is okay to reward a child for good behavior. It can be as simple as sticking an emoji on a chart. When your child expresses concern with words, rather than hitting or screaming, high five her and thank her for telling you what she was feeling. Let her put a smiley face sticker in that day’s column on the chart for behaving like a little lady (rather than a monster).
Use Illustrated Books
There are several good books that help teach children how to put words with feelings. The milkandbookies website has a list of 10 books with Ways to Help Young Children Understand their emotions.