12 ways to teach children about feelings

12 ways to teach children about feelings

At a time when the pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental health and well-being of children around the world, it’s more important than ever to acknowledge how they’re feeling and help them express their emotions clearly and productively. Start off your 2021 with these practical tips for parents and caretakers to teach your children about feelings from author Jeff Goodman, whose new children’s book, Feel Like Eggs?, introduces kids to a dozen different feelings.

There’s an excellent range of engaging books to teach children about feelings, from playful picture books to academic nonfiction. Try reading an age-appropriate title with your child and use the characters to spark conversations about emotions and how they impact the trajectory of the story.

Dust off that stereo! Or, just play a song off your phone. No matter the format, music has a unique ability to bring us out of our emotional shells. For younger children, see how they respond to different kinds of music and ask them how it makes them feel. For older kids, there’s opportunity for deep dialogue about the emotions, memories, and thoughts evoked by particular songs.

You can’t spell heart without “art,” right? Grab a pack of markers, crayons, or colored pencils and encourage your little one to make images for different feelings. What does happy look like? What about sad? Scared?

Limiting time in front of the tube is a noble parenting pursuit, but there’s room for quality screen time in the right context. Find an age-appropriate show or program and enrich the viewing experience with a conversation about the characters’ feelings. Pro tip: The nonprofit Common Sense Media offers a wide variety of helpful content, including tech strategies and parent-minded reviews of popular shows and movies.

You know that mental clarity and mood improvement you get when you exercise? Science tells us that cardiovascular activity benefits our well-being, and it’s true for our kids too. By taking a hike or neighbourhood stroll with your child, not only are you getting your heart rate up, but you’re also allocating quality time for those special connections. Think about it like this: Go outside to get at what’s inside!

This is a different kind of emotional eating. Bestowchef powers upon your child and encourage them to develop a menu of feelings. What would joy taste like? What dish would symbolize anxiousness? How would overconfidence be represented? Of course, don’t miss an opportunity to whip up a favourite dish to share whilst you teach your children about feelings.

As adults, it’s easy to spend much of our time thinking about the recent past or the near future. When we stop for a moment and take stock of the immediate present, we can reward ourselves with a sense of calm even amid demanding challenges. For children, a simple breathing exercise or meditation can promote the kind of self-awareness that will make it easier for them to express themselves.

If your child isn’t comfortable with sharing their own emotions, start by encouraging them to notice how others might be feeling. This can be done with the “What’s the Story?” game: In any people-watching scenario, have your child guess how someone is feeling based on their demeanor and facial expressions. By giving your child an opportunity recognize others’ emotions, you are not only developing their capacity for empathy, but you are also giving them a vocabulary to understand their own feelings.

Children’s daily lives are filled with emotional crossroads, whether they’re protesting a new food or excited about a developing friendship. Instead of glossing over the matter, place an emphasis on addressing your child’s feelings in the moment. This can help validate their emotional status while also giving you an opportunity to guide them with tools for self-regulation.

Writing is incredibly therapeutic in that it assists with processing emotions. After all, it’s difficult to describe how you’re feeling until you understand it yourself. Encourage your child to compose a daily journal entry, even if it’s just a sentence or two; although results will depend on age and ability, this practice promotes self-awareness and personal reflection.

Maybe you’re happy about your favorite sports team’s recent victory or nervous about an upcoming presentation at work. No matter how you’re feeling, use the opportunity to talk your child through why you’re experiencing a certain emotion and some appropriate actions you take to express it.

It’s a short and simple activity, but playing a round of “Roses, Thorns, and Buds” can be surprisingly effective. Ask your child to share a rose (a highlight from their day or week); a thorn (something negative); and a bud (a new idea or something they’re anticipating). You should participate as well! Not only will this game encourage your child to draw connections between their daily lives and their feelings, but listening to others’ reflections will help them develop a sense of empathy.

Jeff Goodman is a Los Angeles-based communications specialist and author whose recently published children’s book about emotions, Feel Like Eggs?, is available on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @jeffgoodman2, visit his Facebook page or check out his website.