Talking About Feelings with Kids
As adults, we know that talking about feelings can often be overwhelming. And yet, adults have the tendency (as teachers, parents, babysitters, et cetera) to expect children to know their own feelings and talk about them! If you’ve ever experienced frustration with trying to understand your child’s thoughts or talking about feelings with kids the guide below will be a great step in the right direction.
Start By Discussing Your Own Feelings As They Occur
When adults experience specific feelings, we tend to identify them, deal with or avoid them, and move on without anyone being the wiser. However, there was a time when we were not aware of how to do this.
Children are still in the stage of learning what various emotions are and how to interpret the signals that their minds and bodies are sending them. Since one of the most influential ways that children learn is through modeling, it can be helpful to identify our emotions to our children as a starting point to begin talking about feelings with kids. This way they know what those feelings look like in others and can begin to figure out what they look and feel like in themselves.
As an example, if you stub your toe and are feeling pain and frustration, express that! Instead of a simple “ouch!” (or a muttered curse), take a deep breath and state out loud something along the lines of “this hurts and I am frustrated”. If your child asks questions, you can answer them in the moment or set a specific time to discuss them later – but remember to return to the topic!
Identify Feelings in Media
Children constantly consume media, whether through television, tablets, books, or other sources. A greaty way to begin talking about feelings with kids is to sit with your child while they watch a favorite show or movie and help them to identify what the main characters are feeling. If you’d like to take things a step further, ask them how they know!
Things like facial expressions, word choice, body language, and more contribute to our knowledge of the feelings of others. Children often recognize these things but may have some difficulty articulating them, so some patience and assistance may be required at first.
Identify What it Seems Like Your Child is Feeling
Generally when a child is having a meltdown, our instinct as adults is to soothe and quiet them. However, it can also be beneficial to identify what the feeling is and how we are aware the child is experiencing that emotion.
For example, if a child is pouting because they were told it is time to put screens away for the day, you can start a conversation about talking about feelings with kids by saying, “I can see this feels frustrating for you based on your expression. I know feeling frustrated is hard, but we have rules about screens in this house”.
Just as we model language or tasks for children, we can also model identification and explanation of feelings. Sometimes we will be off base as adults, but this can be helpful as well! We learn more about how the children in our lives emote and the children learn more about how they are being perceived.
Emotions remain a difficult topic for people of all ages, but with some guidance and patience, children can learn to accurately and helpfully express their feelings; the next step is learning how to cope with those feelings!
Need a little more support in order to maintain emotional wellbeing? Check out The Mynd Clinic’s Services for mental health therapy at: www.themyndclinic.com
Written by The Mynd Clinic’s staff marriage and family therapist: Lauren Buroker, LMFT