How to Talk to Your Child About Feelings

Whether happy, sad, angry or embarrassed, children go through the same emotions that adults do.  Emotions give us information about what we are experiencing and help us know how to respond. Many times kids, especially younger ones, struggle with understanding their feelings or emotions.  When children struggle with expressing feelings and emotions, they may shut down, act out or find it more difficult to resolve negative feelings.

By encouraging your child to express their thoughts and emotions, you can help them talk about feelings more clearly and openly. Identifying emotions can help children avoid or resolve conflicts better and cope with difficult feelings. Tips for helping your child talk about feelings include:

 

  1. Identify the Emotion. Often times we use the words happy, mad, sad, angry, etc. But there are many other feelings that children can use to learn how to express themselves. Help children identify how they are feeling by teaching them new words to express themselves.
    Feeling Words-01-01-01
  2. Listen. It may be difficult to hear how your child expresses his feelings. Your first reaction may be to deny how they’re feeling. No matter what your child says, respond in a way that will open the line of communication.  If your child says, “I’m afraid of school,” ask, “What is it about school that you are afraid of?”  Do not minimize their feelings by responding with words that aren’t helpful such as, “There’s no reason to be afraid.”

Listen to your child and acknowledge what they are feeling.  By listening, your child will learn that it’s okay to talk to you about feelings.

  1. Show them! Tell your child how you feel. Use “I feel” statements with your child to model the best way to convey feelings. “I feel tired today because I didn’t get enough sleep,” or “I feel sad when you choose to ignore me.” From your example, your child will learn to identify and express his own feelings.
  1. Empathize: Show your child empathy by demonstrating that you understand what your child is feeling. For example, “I can see that you are really excited for your birthday,” or “I know you are sad that your new toy is broken,” recognizes different feelings in children. By empathizing with your child they will become more aware of their feelings and the feelings of others.
  1. Practice. Make talking to your child about feelings a normal part of every day. For example, you can talk about feelings when you are playing a game, going to school or at the dinner table. There are all kinds of things that happen every day that will be great opportunities for you to talk about feelings.

Check out this video for additional tips from Washburn Center clinicians.